What we have hitherto observed on the condition and manners of nations, though chiefly derived from what has passed in the temperate climates, may, in some measure, be applied to the rude state of mankind in every part of the earth: but if we intend to pursue the history of our species in its further attainments, we may soon enter on subjects which will confine our observation to more narrow limits. The genius of political wisdom and civil arts appears to have chosen his seats in particular tracts of the earth, and to have selected his favourites in particular races of men.
Man, in his animal capacity, is qualified to subsist in every climate. He reigns with the lion and the tyger under the equatorial beats of the sun, or be associates with the bear and the raindeer beyond the polar circle. His versatile disposition fits him to assume the habits of either condition, or his talent for arts enables him to supply its defects. The intermediate climates, however, appear most to favour his nature; and in whatever manner we account for the fact, it cannot be doubted, that this animal has always attained to the principal honours of his species within the temperate zone. The arts, which he has on this scene repeatedly invented, the extent of his reason, the fertility of his fancy, and the force of his genius in literature, commerce, policy, and war, sufficiently declare either a distinguished advantage of situation, or a natural superiority of mind.
The most remarkable races of men, it is true, have been rude before they were polished. They have in some cases returned to rudeness again: and it is not from the actual possession of arts, science, or policy, that we are to pronounce of their genius.
There is a vigour, a reach of capacity, and a sensibility of mind, which may characterise as well the savage as the citizen, the slave as well as the master; and the same powers of the mind may be turned to a variety of purposes. A modern Greek, perhaps, is mischievous, slavish, and cunning, from the same animated temperament that made his ancestor ardent, ingenious, and bold, in the camp, or in the council of his nation. A modern Italian is distinguished by sensibility, quickness, and art, while he employs on trifles the capacity of an ancient Roman; and exhibits now, in the scene of amusement, and in the search of a frivolous applause, that fire, and those passions, with which Gracchus burned in the forum, and shook the assemblies of a severer people.
The commercial and lucrative arts have been, in some climates, the principal object of mankind, and have been retained through every disaster; in others, even under all the fluctuations of fortune, they have still been neglected; while in the temperate climates of Europe and Asia, they have had their ages of admiration as well as contempt.
In one state of society, arts are slighted, from that very ardour of mind, and principle of activity, by which, in another; they are practised with the greatest success. While men are ingrossed by their passions, heated and roused by the struggles and dangers of their country; while the trumpet sounds, or the alarm of social engagement is rung, and the heart beats high, it were a mark of dullness, or of an abject spirit, to find leisure for the study of ease, or the pursuit of improvements, which have mere convenience or ease for their object.
The frequent vicissitudes and reverses of fortune, which nations have experienced on that very ground where the arts have prospered, are probably the effects of a busy, inventive, and versatile spirit, by which men have carried every national pursuit to extremes. They have raised the fabric of despotic empire to its greatest height, where they had best understood the foundations of freedom. They perished in the flames which they themselves had kindled; and they only, perhaps, were capable of displaying, by turns, the greatest improvements, or the lowest corruptions, to which the human mind can be brought.
On this scene, mankind have twice, within the compass of history, ascended from rude beginnings to very high degrees of refinement. In every age, whether destined by its temporary disposition to build or to destroy, they have left the vestiges of an active and vehement spirit. The pavement and the ruins of Rome are buried in dust, shaken from the feet of barbarians, who trod with contempt on the refinements of luxury, and spurned those arts, the use of which it was reserved for the posterity of the same people to discover and to admire. The tents of the wild Arab are even now pitched among the ruins of magnificent cities; and the waste fields which border On Palestine and Syria, are perhaps become again the nursery of infant nations. The chieftain of an Arab tribe, like the founder of Rome, may have already fixed the roots of a plant that is to flourish in some future period, or laid the foundations of a fabric, that will attain to its grandeur in some distant age.
Great part of Africa has been always unknown; but the silence of fame, on the subject of its revolutions, is an argument, where no other proof can be found, of weakness in the genius of its people. The torrid zone, every where round the globe, however known to the geographer, has furnished few materials for history; and though in many places supplied with the arts of life in no contemptible degree, has no where matured the more important projects of political wisdom, nor inspired the virtues which are connected with freedom, and required in the conduct of civil affairs.
It was indeed in the torrid zone that mere arts of mechanism and manufacture were found, among the inhabitants of the new world, to have made the greatest advance: it is in India, and in the regions of this hemisphere, which are visited by the vertical sun, that the arts of manufacture, and the practice of commerce, are of the greatest antiquity, and have survived, with the smallest diminution, the ruins of time, and the revolutions of empire.
The sun, it seems, which ripens the pine-apple and the tamarind, inspires a degree of mildness than can even assuage the rigours of despotical government: and such is the effect of a gentle and pacific disposition in the natives of the East, that no conquest, no irruption of barbarians, terminates, as they did among the stubborn natives of Europe, by a total destruction of what the love of ease and of pleasure had produced.
Transferred, without any great struggle, from one master to another, the natives of India are ready, upon every charge, to pursue their industry, to acquiesce in the enjoyment of life, and the hopes of animal pleasure: the wars of conquest are not prolonged to exasperate the parties engaged in them, or to desolate the land for which those parties contend: even the barbarous invader leaves untouched the commercial settlement which has not provoked his rage: though master of opulent cities, he only incamps in their neighbourhood, and leaves to his heirs the option of entering, by degrees, on the pleasures, the vices, and the pageantries his acquisitions afford: his successors, still more than himself, are disposed to foster the hive, in proportion as they taste more of its sweets; and they spare the inhabitant, together with his dwelling, as they spare the herd or the stall, of which they are become the proprietors.
The modern description of India is a repetition of the ancient, and the present state of China is derived from a distant antiquity, to which there is no parallel in the history of mankind. The succession of monarchs has been changed; but no revolutions have affected the state. The African and the Samoiede are not more uniform in their ignorance and barbarity, than the Chinese and the Indian, if we may credit their own story, have been in the practice of manufacture, and in the observance of a certain police, which was calculated only to regulate their traffic, and to protect them in their application to servile or lucrative arts.
If we pass from these general representations of what mankind have done, to the more minute description of the animal himself, as he has occupied different climates, and is diversified in his temper, complexion, and character, we shall find a variety of genius corresponding to the effects of his conduct, and the result of his story.
Man, in the perfection of his natural faculties, is quick and delicate in his sensibility; extensive and various in his imaginations and reflections; attentive, penetrating, and subtile, in what relates to his fellow-creatures; firm and ardent in his purposes; devoted to friendship or to enmity; jealous of his independence and his honour, which he will not relinquish for safety or for profit: under all his corruptions or improvements, he retains his natural sensibility, if not his force; and his commerce is a blessing or a curse, according to the direction his mind has received.
But under the extremes of heat or of cold, the active range of the human soul appears to be limited; and men are of inferior importance, either as friends, or as enemies. In the one extreme, they are dull and slow, moderate in their desires, regular and pacific in their manner of life; in the other, they are feverish in their passions, weak in their judgements, and addicted by temperament to animal pleasure. In both the heart is mercenary, and makes important concessions for childish bribes: in both the spirit is prepared for servitude: in the one it is subdued by fear of the future; in the other it is not roused even by its sense of the present.
The nations of Europe who would settle or conquer on the south or the north of their own happier climates, find little resistance: they extend their dominion at pleasure, and find no where a limit but in the ocean, and in the satiety of conquest. With few of the pangs and the struggles that precede the reduction of nations, mighty provinces have been successively annexed to the territory of Russia; and its sovereign, who accounts within his domain, entire tribes, with whom perhaps none of his emissaries have ever conversed, dispatched a few geometers to extend his empire, and thus to execute a project, in which the Romans were obliged to employ their consuls and their legions.1 These modern conquerors complain of rebellion, where they meet with repugnance; and are surprised at being treated as enemies, where they come to impose their tribute.
It appears, however, that on the shores of the Eastern sea, they have met with nations2 who have questioned their title to reign, and who have considered the requisition of a tax as the demand of effects for nothing. Here perhaps may be found the genius of ancient Europe, and under its name of ferocity, the spirit of national independence;3 that spirit which disputed its ground in the West with the victorious armies of Rome, and baffled the attempts of the Persian monarchs to comprehend the villages of Greece within the bounds of their extensive dominion.
The great and striking diversities which obtain betwixt the inhabitants of climates far removed from each other, are, like the varieties of other animals in different regions, easily observed. The horse and the raindeer are just emblems of the Arab and the Laplander: the native of Arabia, like the animal for whose race his country is famed, whether wild in the woods, or tutored by art, is lively, active, and fervent in the exercise on which he is bent. This race of men, in their rude state, fly to the desert for freedom, and in roving bands alarm the frontiers of empire, and strike a terror in the province to which their moving encampments advance.4 When roused by the prospect of conquest, or disposed to act on a plan, they spread their dominion, and their system of imagination, over mighty tracts of the earth: when possessed of property and of settlement, they set the example of a lively invention, and superior ingenuity, in the practice of arts, and the study of science, The Laplander, on the contrary, like the associate of his climate, is hardy, indefatigable, and patient of famine; dull rather than tame; serviceable in a particular tract; and incapable of change. Whole nations continue from age to age in the same condition, and, with immoveable phlegm, submit to the appellations of Dane, of Swede, or of Muscovite, according to the land they inhabit; and suffer their country to be severed like a common, by the line on which those nations have traced their limits of empire.
It is not in the extremes alone that these varieties of genius may be clearly distinguished. Their continual change keeps pace with the variations of climate with which we suppose them connected: and though certain degrees of capacity, penetration, and ardour, are not the lot of entire nations, nor the vulgar properties of any people; yet their unequal frequency, and unequal measure, in different countries, are sufficiently manifest from the manners, the tone of conversation, the talent for business, amusement, and literary composition, which predominate in each.
It is to the Southern nations of Europe, both ancient and modern, that we owe the invention and the embellishment of that mythology, and those early traditions, which continue to furnish the materials of fancy, and the field of poetic allusion. To them we owe the romantic tales of chivalry, as well as the subsequent models of a more rational style, by which the heart and the imagination are kindled, and the understanding informed.
The fruits of industry have abounded most in the North, and the study of science has here received its most solid improvements: the efforts of imagination and sentiment were most frequent and most successful in the South. While the shores of the Baltic became famed for the studies of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler, those of the Mediterranean were celebrated for giving birth to men of genius in all its variety, and for having abounded with poets and historians, as well as with men of science.
On one side, learning took its rise from the heart and the fancy; on the other, it is still confined to the judgement and the memory. A faithful detail of public transactions, with little discernment of their comparative importance; the treaties and the claims of nations, the births and genealogies of princes, are, in the literature of Northern nations, amply preserved; while the lights of the understanding, and the feelings of the heart, are suffered to perish. The history of the human character; the interesting memoir, founded no less on the careless proceedings of a private life, than on the formal transactions of a public station; the ingenious pleasantry, the piercing ridicule, the tender, pathetic, or the elevated strain of elocution, have been confined in modern as well as ancient times, with a few exceptions, to the same latitudes with the fig and the vine.
These diversities of natural genius, if real, must have great part of their foundation in the animal frame: and it has been often observed, that the vine flourishes, where, to quicken the ferments of the human blood, its aids are the least required. While spirituous liquors are, among Southern nations, from a sense of their ruinous effects, prohibited; or from a love of decency, and the possession of a temperament sufficiently warm, not greatly desired; they carry in the North a peculiar charm, while they awaken the mind, and give a taste of that lively fancy and ardour of passion, which the climate is found to deny.
The melting desires, or the fiery passions, which in one climate take place between the sexes, are in another changed into a sober consideration, or a patience of mutual disgust. This change is remarked in crossing the Mediterranean, in following the course of the Missisippi, in ascending the mountains of Caucasus, and in passing from the Alps and the Pyrenees to the shores of the Baltic.
The female sex domineers on the frontier of Louisiana, by the double engine of superstition, and of passion. They are slaves among the native inhabitants of Canada, and chiefly valued for the toils they endure, and the domestic service they yield.5
The burning ardours, and the torturing jealousies, of the seraglio and the haram, which have reigned so long in Asia and Africa, and which, in the Southern parts of Europe, have scarcely given way to the difference of religion and civil establishments, are found, however, with an abatement of heat in the climate, to be more easily changed, in one latitude, into a temporary passion which ingrosses the mind, without enfeebling it, and which excites to romantic atchievements: by a farther progress to the North, it is changed into a spirit of gallantry, which employs the wit and the fancy more than the heart; which prefers intrigue to enjoyment; and substitutes affectation and vanity, where sentiment and desire have failed. As it departs from the sun, the same passion is further composed into a habit of domestic connection, or frozen into a state of insensibility, under which the sexes at freedom scarcely chuse to unite their society.
These variations of temperament and character, do not indeed correspond with the number of degrees that are measured from the equator to the pole; nor does the temperature of the air itself depend on the latitude. Varieties of soil and position, the distance or neighbourhood of the sea, are known to affect the atmosphere, and may have signal effects in composing the animal frame.
The climates of America, though taken under the same parallel, are observed to differ from those of Europe. There, extensive marshes, great lakes, aged, decayed, and crouded forests, with the other circumstances that mark an uncultivated country, are supposed to replenish the air with heavy and noxious vapours, that give a double asperity to the winter, and, during many months, by the frequency and continuance of fogs, snow, and frost, carry the inconveniencies of the frigid zone far into the temperate. The Samoiede and the Laplander, however, have their counterpart, though on a lower latitude, on the shores of America: the Canadian and the Iroquois bear a resemblance to the ancient inhabitants of the middling climates of Europe: the Mexican, like the Asiatic of India, being addicted to pleasure, was sunk in effeminacy; and in the neighbourhood of the wild and the free, had suffered to be raised on his weakness, a domineering superstition, and a permanent fabric of despotical government.
Great part of Tartary lies under the same parallels with Greece, Italy, and Spain; but the climates are found to be different; and while the shores, not only of the Mediterranean, but even those of the Atlantic, are favoured with a moderate change and vicissitude of seasons, the eastern parts of Europe, and the northern continent of Asia, are afflicted with all their extremes. In one season, we are told, that the plagues of an ardent summer reach almost to the frozen sea; and that the inhabitant is obliged to screen himself from noxious vermin in the same clouds of smoke in which he must, at a different time of the year, take shelter from the rigours of cold. When winter returns, the transition is rapid, and with an asperity almost equal in every latitude, lays waste the face of the earth, from the northern confines of Siberia, to the descents of Mount Caucasus and the frontier of India.
With this unequal distribution of climate, by which the lot, as well as the national character, of the Northern Asiatic may be deemed inferior to that of Europeans who lie under the same parallels, a similar gradation of temperament and spirit, however, has been observed, in following the meridian on either tract; and the Southern Tartar has over the Tonguses and the Samoiede, the same pre-eminence that certain nations of Europe are known to possess over their Northern neighbours, in situations more advantageous to both.
The Southern hemisphere scarcely offers a subject of like observation. The temperate zone is there still undiscovered, or is only known in two promontories, the Cape of Good Hope, and Cape Horn, which stretch into moderate latitudes on that side of the line. But the savage of South America, notwithstanding the interposition of the nations of Peru and of Mexico, is found to resemble his counterpart on the North; and the Hottentot, in many things, the barbarian of Europe: he is tenacious of freedom, has rudiments of policy, and a national vigour, which serve to distinguish his race from the other African tribes, who are exposed to the more vertical rays of the sun.
While we have, in these observations, only thrown out what must present itself on the most cursory view of the history of mankind, or what may be presumed from the mere obscurity of some nations, who inhabit great tracts of the earth, as well as from the lustre of others, we are still unable to explain the manner in which climate may affect the temperament, or foster the genius, of its inhabitant.
That the temper of the heart, and the intellectual operations of the mind, are, in some measure, dependent on the state of the animal organs, is well known from experience. Men differ from themselves in sickness and in health; under a change of diet, of air, and of exercise: but we are, even in these familiar instances, at a loss how to connect the cause with its supposed effect: and though climate, by including a variety of such causes, may, by some regular influence, affect the characters of men, we can never hope to explain the manner of those influences till we have understood what probably we shall never understand, the structure of those finer organs with which the operations of the soul are connected.
When we point out, in the situation of a people, circumstances which, by determining their pursuits, regulate their habits, and their manner of life; and when, instead of referring to the supposed physical source of their dispositions, we assign their inducements to a determinate conduct; in this we speak of effects and of causes whose connection is more familiarly known. We can understand, for instance, why a race of men like the Samoiede, confined, during great part of the year, to darkness, or retired into caverns, should differ, in their manners and apprehensions, from those who are at liberty in every season; or who, instead of seeking relief from the extremities of cold, are employed in search of precautions against the oppressions of a burning sun. Fire and exercise are the remedies of cold; repose and shade the securities from heat. The Hollander is laborious and industrious in Europe; he becomes more languid and slothful in India.6
Great extremities, either of heat or cold, are, perhaps, in a moral view, equally unfavourable to the active genius of mankind, and by presenting alike unsuperable difficulties to be overcome, or strong inducements to indolence and sloth, equally prevent the first applications of ingenuity, or limit their progress. Some intermediate degrees of inconvenience in the situation, at once excite the spirit, and, with the hopes of success, encourage its efforts. 'It is in the least favourable situations,' says Mr Rousseau, 'that arts have flourished the most. I could show them in Egypt, as they spread with the overflowing of the Nile; and in Africa, as they mounted up to the clouds, from a rocky soil and from barren sands; while on the fertile banks of the Eurotas, they were not able to fasten their roots.'
Where mankind from the first subsist by toil, and in the midst of difficulties, the defects of their situation are supplied by industry. and while dry, tempting, and healthful lands are left uncultivated,7 the pestilent marsh is drained with great labour, and the Sea is fenced off with mighty barriers, the materials and the costs of which, the soil to be gained can scarcely afford, or repay. Harbours are opened, and crouded with shipping, where vessels of burden, if they are not constructed with a view to the situation, have not water to float. Elegant and magnificent edifices are raised on foundations of slime; and all the conveniencies of human life are made to abound, where nature does not seem to have prepared a reception for men. It is in vain to expect, that the residence of arts and commerce should be determined by the possession of natural advantages. Men do more when they have certain difficulties to surmount, than when they have supposed blessings to enjoy: and the shade of the barren oak and the pine are more favourable to the genius of mankind, than that of the palm or the tamarind.
Among the advantages which enable nations to run the career of policy, as well as of arts, it may be expected, from the observations already made, that we should reckon every circumstance which enables them to divide and to maintain themselves in distinct and independent communities. The society and concourse of other men, are not more necessary to form the individual, than the rivalship and competition of nations are to invigorate the principles of political life in a state. Their wars, and their treaties, their mutual jealousies, and the establishments which they devise with a view to each other, constitute more than half the occupations of mankind, and furnish materials for their greatest and most improving exertions. For this reason, clusters of islands, a continent divided by many natural barriers, great rivers, ridges of mountains, and arms of the sea, are best fitted for becoming the nursery of independent and respectable nations. The distinction of states being clearly maintained, a principle of political life is established in every division, and the capital of every district, like the heart in an animal body, communicates with ease the vital blood and the national spirit to its members.
The most respectable nations have always been found where at least one part of the frontier has been washed by the sea. This barrier, perhaps the strongest of all in the times of barbarity, does not, however, even then supersede the cares of a national defence; and in the advanced state of arts, gives the greatest scope and facility to commerce.
Thriving and independent nations were accordingly scattered on the shores of the Pacific and the Atlantic. They surrounded the Red sea, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic; while, a few tribes excepted, who retire among the mountains bordering on India and Persia, or who have found some rude establishment among the creeks and the shores of the Caspian and the Euxine, there is scarcely a people in the vast continent of Asia who deserves the name of a nation. The unbounded plain is traversed at large by hordes, who are in perpetual motion, or who are displaced and harassed by their mutual hostilities. Although they are never perhaps actually blended together in the course of hunting, or in the search of pasture, they cannot bear one great distinction of nations, which is taken from the territory, and which is deeply impressed by an affection to the native seat. They move in troops, without the arrangement or the concert of nations; they become easy accessions to every new empire among themselves, or to the Chinese and the Muscovite, with whom they hold a traffic for the means of subsistence, and the materials of pleasure.
Where a happy system of nations is formed, they do not rely for the continuance of their separate names, and for that of their political independence, on the barriers erected by nature. Mutual jealousies lead to the maintenance of a balance of power; and this principle, more than the Rhine and the Ocean, than the Alps and the Pyrenees in modern Europe; more than the straits of Thermopylae, the mountains of Thrace, or the bays of Salamine and Corinth in ancient Greece; tended to prolong the separation, to which the inhabitants of these happy climates have owed their felicity as nations, the lustre of their fame, and their civil accomplishments.
If we mean to pursue the history of civil society, our attention must be chiefly directed to such examples, and we must here bid farewel to those regions of the earth, on which our species, by the effects of situation or climate, appear to be restrained in their national pursuits, or inferior in the powers of the mind.
We have hitherto observed mankind, either united together on terms of equality, or disposed to admit of a subordination founded merely on the voluntary respect and attachment which they paid to their leaders; but, in both cases, without any concerted plan of government, or system of laws.
The savage, whose fortune is comprised in his cabin, his fur, and his arms, is satisfied with that provision, and with that degree of security, he himself can procure. He perceives, in treating with his equal, no subject of discussion that should be referred to the decision of a judge; nor does he find in any hand the badges of magistracy, or the ensigns of a perpetual command.
The barbarian, though induced by his admiration of personal qualities, the lustre of a heroic race, or a superiority of fortune, to follow the banners of a leader, and to act a subordinate part in his tribe, knows not, that what he performs from choice, is to be made a subject of obligation. He acts from affections unacquainted with forms; and when provoked, or when engaged in disputes, he recurs to the sword, as the ultimate means of decision, in all questions of right.
Human affairs, in the mean time, continue their progress. What was in one generation a propensity to herd with the species, becomes, in the ages which follow, a principle of national union. What was originally an alliance for common defence, becomes a concerted plan of political force; the care of subsistence becomes an anxiety for accumulating wealth, and the foundation of commercial arts.
Mankind, in following the present sense of their minds, in striving to remove inconveniencies, or to gain apparent and contiguous advantages, arrive at ends which even their imagination could not anticipate, and pass on, like other animals, in the track of their nature, without perceiving its end. He who first said, 'I will appropriate this field: I will leave it to my heirs;' did not perceive, that he was laying the foundation of civil laws and political establishments. He who first ranged himself under a leader, did not perceive, that he was setting the example of a permanent subordination, under the pretence of which, the rapacious were to seize his possessions, and the arrogant to lay claim to his service.
Men, in general, are sufficiently disposed to occupy themselves in forming projects and schemes: but he who would scheme and project for others, will find an opponent in every person who is disposed to scheme for himself. Like the winds, that come we know not whence, and blow whithersoever they list, the forms of society are derived from an obscure and distant origin; they arise, long before the date of philosophy, from the instincts, not from the speculations, of men. The croud of mankind, are directed in their establishments and measures, by the circumstances in which they are placed; and seldom are turned from their way, to follow the plan of any single projector.
Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are indeed the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.8 If Cromwell said, That a man never mounts higher, than when he knows not whither he is going; it may with more reason be affirmed of communities, that they admit of the greatest revolutions where no change is intended, and that the most refined politicians do not always know whither they are leading the state by their projects.
If we listen to the testimony of modern history, and to that of the most authentic parts of the ancient; if we attend to the practice of nations in every quarter of the world, and in every condition, whether that of the barbarian or the polished, we shall find very little reason to retract this assertion. No constitution is formed by concert, no government is copied from a plan. The members of a small state contend for equality; the members of a greater, find themselves classed in a certain manner that lays a foundation for monarchy. They proceed from one form of government to another, by easy transitions, and frequently under old names adopt a new constitution. The seeds of every form are lodged in human nature; they spring up and ripen with the season. The prevalence of a particular species is often derived from an imperceptible ingredient mingled in the soil.
We are therefore to receive, with caution, the traditionary histories of ancient legislators, and founders of states. Their names have long been celebrated; their supposed plans have been admired; and what were probably the consequences of an early situation, is, in every instance, considered as an effect of design. An author and a work, like cause and effect, are perpetually coupled together. This is the simplest form under which we can consider the establishment of nations: and we ascribe to a previous design, what came to be known only by experience, what no human wisdom could foresee, and what, without the concurring humour and disposition of his age, no authority could enable an individual to execute.
If men, during ages of extensive reflection, and employed in the search of improvement, are wedded to their institutions; and, labouring under many acknowledged inconveniencies, cannot break loose from the trammels of custom; what shall we suppose their humour to have been in the times of Romulus and Lycurgus? They were not surely more disposed to embrace the schemes of innovators, or to shake off the impressions of habit: they were not more pliant and ductile, when their knowledge was less; not more capable of refinement, when their minds were more circumscribed.
We imagine, perhaps, that rude nations must have so strong a sense of the defects under which they labour, and be so conscious that reformations are requisite in their manners, that they must be ready to adopt, with joy, every plan of improvement, and to receive every plausible proposal with implicit compliance. And we are thus inclined to believe, that the harp of Orpheus could effect, in one age, what the eloquence of Plato could not produce in another. We mistake, however, the characteristic of simple ages: mankind then appear to feel the fewest defects, and are then least desirous to enter on reformations.
The reality, in the mean time, of certain establishments at Rome and at Sparta, cannot be disputed: but it is probable, that the government of both these states took its rise from the situation and genius of the people, not from the projects of single men; that the celebrated warrior and statesman, who are considered as the founders of those nations, only acted a superior part among numbers who were disposed to the same institutions; and that they left to posterity a renown, pointing them out as the inventors of many practices which had been already in use, and which helped to form their own manners and genius, as well as those of their countrymen.
It has been formerly observed, that, in many particulars, the customs of simple nations coincide with what is ascribed to the invention of early statesmen; that the model of republican government, the senate, and the assembly of the people; that even the equality of property, or the community of goods, were not reserved to the invention or contrivance of singular men. If we consider Romulus as the founder of the Roman state, certainly he who killed his brother that he might reign alone, did not desire to come under restraints from the controuling power of the senate, nor to refer the councils of his sovereignty to the decision of a collective body. Love of dominion is, by its nature, averse to constraint; and this chieftain, like every leader in a rude age, probably found a class of men ready to intrude on his councils, and without whom he could not proceed. He met with occasions, On which, as at the sound of a trumpet, the body of the people assembled, and took resolutions, which any individual might in vain dispute, or attempt to controul; and Rome, which commenced on the general plan of every artless society, found lasting improvements in the pursuit of temporary expedients, and digested her political frame in adjusting the pretensions of parties which arose in the state.
Mankind, in very early ages of society, learn to covet riches, and to admire distinction: they have avarice and ambition, and are occasionally led by them to depredation and conquest: but in their ordinary conduct, these motives are balanced or restrained by other habits and other pursuits; by sloth, or intemperance; by personal attachments, or personal animosities; which mislead from the attention to interest. These circumstances render mankind, at times, remiss or outrageous: they prove the source of civil peace or disorder, but disqualify those who are actuated by them, from maintaining any fixed usurpation; slavery and rapine are first threatened from abroad, and war, either offensive or defensive, is the great business of every tribe. The enemy occupy their thoughts; they have no leisure for domestic dissensions. It is the desire of every separate community, however, to secure itself; and in proportion as it gains this object, by strengthening its barrier, by weakening its enemy, or by procuring allies, the individual at home bethinks him of what he may gain or lose for himself: the leader is disposed to enlarge the advantages which belong to his station; the follower becomes jealous of rights which are open to incroachment; and parties who united before, from affection and habit, or from a regard to their common preservation, disagree in supporting their several claims to precedence or profit.
When the animosities of faction are thus awakened at home, and the pretensions of freedom are opposed to those of dominion, the members of every society find a new scene upon which to exert their activity. They had quarrelled, perhaps, on points of interest; they had balanced between different leaders; but they had never united as citizens, to withstand the encroachments of sovereignty, or to maintain their common rights as a people. If the prince, in this contest, finds numbers to support, as well as to oppose his pretensions, the sword which was whetted against foreign enemies, may be pointed at the bosom of fellow-subjects, and every interval of peace from abroad, be filled with domestic war. The sacred names of Liberty, Justice, and Civil Order, are made to resound in public assemblies; and, during the absence of other alarms, give a society, within itself, an abundant subject of ferment and animosity.
If what is related of the little principalities which, in ancient times, were formed in Greece, in Italy, and over all Europe, agrees with the character we have given of mankind under the first impressions of property, of interest, and of hereditary distinctions; the seditions and domestic wars which followed in those very states, the expulsion of their kings, or the questions which arose concerning the prerogatives of the sovereign, or privilege of the subject, are agreeable to the representation which we now give of the first step toward political establishment, and the desire of a legal constitution.
What this constitution may be in its earliest form, depends on a variety of circumstances in the condition of nations: It depends on the extent of the principality in its rude state; on the degree of disparity to which mankind had submitted before they began to dispute its abuses: it depends likewise on what we term accidents, the personal character of an individual, or the events of a war.
Every community is originally a small one. That propensity by which mankind at first unite, is not the principle from which they afterwards act in extending the limits of empire. Small tribes, where they are not assembled by common objects of conquest or safety, are even averse to a coalition. If, like the real or fabulous confederacy of the Greeks for the destruction of Troy, many nations combine in pursuit of a single object, they easily separate again, and act anew on the maxims of rival states.
There is, perhaps, a certain national extent, within which the passions of men are easily communicated from one, or a few, to the whole; and there are certain numbers of men who can be assembled, and act in a body. If, while the society is not enlarged beyond this dimension, and while its members are easily assembled, political contentions arise, the state seldom fails to proceed on republican maxims, and to establish democracy. In most rude principalities, the leader derived his prerogative from the lustre of his race, and from the voluntary attachment of his tribe: the people he commanded, were his friends, his subjects, and his troops. If we suppose, upon any change in their manners, that they cease to revere his dignity, that they pretend to equality among themselves, or are seized with a jealousy of his assuming too much, the foundations of his power are already withdrawn. When the voluntary subject becomes refractory; when considerable parties, or the collective body, chuse to act for themselves; the small kingdom, like that of Athens, becomes of course a republic.
The changes of condition, and of manners, which, in the progress of mankind, raise up to nations a leader and a prince, create, at the same time, a nobility, and a variety of ranks, who have, in a subordinate degree, their claim to distinction. Superstition, too, may create an order of men, who, under the title of priesthood, engage in the pursuit of a separate interest; who, by their union and firmness as a body, and by their incessant ambition, deserve to be reckoned in the list of pretenders to power. These different orders of men are the elements of whose mixture the political body is generally formed; each draws to its side some part from the mass of the people. The people themselves are a party upon occasion; and numbers of men, however classed and distinguished, become, by their jarring pretensions and separate views, mutual interruptions and checks; and have, by bringing to the national councils the maxims and apprehensions of a particular order, and by guarding a particular interest, a share in adjusting or preserving the political form of the state.
The pretensions of any particular order, if not checked by some collateral power, would terminate in tyranny; those of a prince, in despotism; those of a nobility or priesthood, in the abuses of aristocracy; of a populace, in the confusions of anarchy. These terminations, as they are never the professed, so are they seldom even the disguised, object of party: but the measures which any party pursues, if suffered to prevail, will lead, by degrees, to every extreme.
In their way to the ascendant they endeavour to gain, and in the midst of interruptions which opposite interests mutually give, liberty may have a permanent or a transient existence; and the constitution may bear a form and a character as various as the casual combination of such multiplied parts can effect.
To bestow on communities some degree of political freedom, it is perhaps sufficient, that their members, either singly, or as they are involved with their several orders, should insist on their rights; that under republics, the citizen should either maintain his own equality with firmness, or restrain the ambition of his fellow-citizen within moderate bounds: that under monarchy, men of every rank should maintain the honours of their private or their public stations; and sacrifice, neither to the impositions of a court, nor to the claims of a populace, those dignities which are destined, in some measure, independent of fortune, to give stability to the throne, and to procure a respect to the subject.
Amidst the contentions of party, the interests of the public, even the maxims of justice and candour, are sometimes forgotten; and yet those fatal consequences which such a measure of corruption seems to portend, do not unavoidably follow. The public interest is often secure, not because individuals are disposed to regard it as the end of their conduct, but because each, in his place, is determined to preserve his own. Liberty is maintained by the continued differences and oppositions of numbers, not by their concurring zeal in behalf of equitable government. In free states, therefore, the wisest laws are never, perhaps, dictated by the interest and spirit of any order of men: they are moved, they are opposed, or amended, by different hands; and come at last to express that medium and composition which contending parties have forced one another to adopt.
When we consider the history of mankind in this view, we cannot be at a loss for the causes which, in small communities, threw the balance on the side of democracy; which, in states more enlarged in respect to territory and numbers of people, gave the ascendant to monarchy; and which, in a variety of conditions and of different ages, enabled mankind to blend and unite the characters of different forms; and, instead of any of the simple constitutions we have mentioned,9 to exhibit a medley of all.
In emerging from a state of rudeness and simplicity, men must be expected to act from that spirit of equality, or moderate subordination, to which they have been accustomed. When crouded together in cities, or within the compass of a small territory, they act by contagious passions, and every individual feels a degree of importance proportioned to his figure in the croud, and the smallness of its numbers. The pretenders to power and dominion appear in too familiar a light to impose upon the multitude, and they have no aids at their call, by which they can bridle the refractory humours of a people who resist their pretensions. Theseus, King of Attica, we are told, assembled the inhabitants of its twelve cantons into one city. In this he took an effectual method to unit into one democracy, what were before the separate members of his monarchy, and to hasten the downfall of the regal power.
The monarch of an extensive territory has many advantages in maintaining his station. Without any grievance to his subjects, he can support the magnificence of a royal estate, and dazzle the imagination of his people, by that very wealth which themselves have bestowed. He can employ the inhabitants of one district against those of another; and while the passions that lead to mutiny and rebellion, can at any one time seize only on a part of his subjects, he feels himself strong in the possession of a general authority. Even the distance at which he resides from many of those who receive his commands, augments the mysterious awe and respect which are paid to his government.
With these different tendencies, accident and corruption, however, joined to a variety of circumstances, may throw particular states from their bias, and produce exceptions to every general rule. This has actually happened in some of the later principalities of Greece, and modern Italy, in Sweden, Poland, and the German empire. But the united states of the Netherlands, and the Swiss cantons, are perhaps the most extensive communities, which maintaining the union of nations, have, for any considerable time, resisted the tendency to monarchical government; and Sweden is the only instance of a republic established in a great kingdom on the ruins of monarchy.
The sovereign of a petty district, or a single city, when not supported, as in modern Europe, by the contagion of monarchical manners, holds the sceptre by a precarious tenure, and is perpetually alarmed by the spirit of mutiny in his people, is guided by jealousy, and supports himself by severity, prevention, and force.
The popular and aristocratical powers in a great nation, as in the case of Germany and Poland, may meet with equal difficulty in maintaining their pretensions; and in order to avoid their danger on the side of kingly usurpation, are obliged to withhold from the supreme magistrate even the necessary trust of an executive power.
The states of Europe, in the manner of their first settlement, laid the foundations of monarchy, and were prepared to unite under regular and extensive governments. If the Greeks, whose progress at home terminated in the establishment of so many independent republics, had under Agamemnon effected a conquest and settlement in Asia, it is probable, that they might have furnished an example of the same kind. But the original inhabitants of any country, forming many separate cantons, come by slow degrees to that coalition and union into which conquering tribes are, in effecting their conquests, or in securing their possessions, hurried at once. Caesar encountered some hundreds of independent nations in Gaul, whom even their common danger did not sufficiently unite. The German invaders, who settled in the lands of the Romans, made, in the same district, a number of separate establishments, but far more extensive than what the ancient Gauls, by their conjunctions and treaties, or in the result of their wars, could after many ages have reached.
The seeds of great monarchies, and the roots of extensive dominion, were every where planted with the colonies that divided the Roman empire. We have no exact account of the numbers, who, with a seeming concert, continued, during some ages, to invade and to seize this tempting prize. Where they expected resistance, they endeavoured to muster up a proportionable force; and when they proposed to settle, entire nations removed to share in the spoil. Scattered over an extensive province, where they could not be secure, without maintaining their union, they continued to acknowledge the leader under whom they had fought; and, like an army sent by divisions into separate stations, were prepared to assemble whenever occasion should require their united operations or counsels.
Every separate party had its post assigned, and every subordinate chieftain his possessions, from which he was to provide his own subsistence, and that of his followers. The model of government was taken from that of a military subordination, and a fief was the temporary pay of an officer proportioned to his rank.10 There was a class of the people destined to military service, another to labour, and to cultivate lands for the benefit of their masters. The officer improved his tenure by degrees, first changing a temporary grant into a tenure for his life; and this also, upon the observance of certain conditions, into a grant including his heirs.
The rank of the nobles became hereditary in every quarter, and formed a powerful and permanent order of men in every state. While they held the people in servitude, they disputed the claims of their sovereign; they withdrew their attendance upon occasion, or turned their arms against him. They formed a strong and insurmountable barrier against a general despotism in the state; but they were themselves, by means of their warlike retainers, the tyrants of every little district, and prevented the establishment of order, or any regular applications of law. They took the advantage of weak reigns or minorities, to push their incroachments on the sovereign; or having made the monarchy elective, they by successive treaties and stipulations, at every election, limited or undermined the monarchical power. The prerogatives of the prince have been, in some instances, as in that of the German empire in particular, reduced to a mere title; and the national union itself preserved in the observance only of a few insignificant formalities.
Where the contest of the sovereign, and of his vassals, under hereditary and ample prerogatives annexed to the crown, had a different issue, the feudal lordships were gradually stript of their powers, the nobles were reduced to the state of subjects, and obliged to hold their honours, and exercise their jurisdictions, in a dependence on the prince. It was his supposed interest to reduce them to a state of equal subjection with the people, and to extend his own authority, by rescuing the labourer and the dependent from the oppressions of their immediate superiors.
In this project the princes of Europe have variously succeeded. While they protected the people, and thereby encouraged the practice of commercial and lucrative arts, they paved the way for despotism in the state; and with the same policy by which they relieved the subject from many oppressions, they increased the powers of the crown.
But where the people had by the constitution a representative in the government, and a head, under which they could avail themselves of the wealth they acquired, and of the sense of their personal importance, this policy turned against the crown; it formed a new power to restrain the prerogative, to establish the government of law, and to exhibit a spectacle new in the history of mankind; monarchy mixed with republic, and extensive territory, governed, during some ages, without military force.
Such were the steps by which the nations of Europe have arrived at their present establishments: in some instances, they have come to the possession of legal constitutions; in others, to the exercise of a mitigated despotism; or continue to struggle with the tendency which they severally have to these different extremes.
The progress of empire, in the early ages of Europe, threatened to be rapid, and to bury the independent spirit of nations in that grave which the Ottoman conquerors found for themselves; and for the wretched race they had vanquished. The Romans were led by slow degrees to extend the limits of their empire; every new acquisition was the result of a tedious war, and required the sending of colonies, and a variety of measures, to secure any new possession. But the feudal superior being animated, from the moment he had gained an establishment, with a desire of extending his territory, and of enlarging the list of his vassals, made frequent annexation of new provinces, merely by bestowing investiture, and received independent states, without any material innovation in the form of their policy, as the subjects of his growing dominion.
Separate principalities were, like the parts of an engine, ready to be joined, and, like the materials of a building, ready to be erected. They were in the result of their struggles put together or taken asunder with facility. The independence of weak states was preserved only by the mutual jealousies of the strong, or by the general attention of all to maintain a balance of power.
The happy system of policy on which European states have proceeded in preserving this balance; the degree of moderation which is, in adjusting their treaties, become habitual even to victorious and powerful monarchies, does honour to mankind, and may give hopes of a lasting felicity to be derived from a prepossession, never, perhaps, equally strong in any former period, or among any number of nations, that the first conquering people will ruin themselves, as well as their rivals.
It is in such states, perhaps, as in a fabric of a large dimension, that we can perceive most distinctly the several parts of which a political body consists; and observe that concurrence or opposition of interests, which serve to unite or to separate different orders of men, and lead them, by maintaining their several claims, to establish a variety of political forms. The smallest republics, however, consist of parts similar to these, and of members who are actuated by a similar spirit. They furnish examples of government diversified by the casual combinations of parties, and by the different advantages with which those parties engage in the conflict.
In every society there is a casual subordination, independent of its formal establishment, and frequently adverse to its constitution. While the administration and the people speak the language of a particular form, and seem to admit no pretensions to power, without a legal nomination in one instance, or without the advantage of hereditary honours in another, this casual subordination, possibly arising from the distribution of property, or from some other circumstance that bestows unequal degrees of influence, gives the state its tone, and fixes its character.
The plebeian order at Rome having been long considered as of an inferior condition, and excluded from the higher offices of magistracy, had sufficient force, as a body, to get this invidious distinction removed; but the individual still acting under the impressions of a subordinate rank, gave in every competition his suffrage to a patrician, whose protection he had experienced, and whose personal authority he felt. By this means, the ascendency of the patrician families was, for a certain period, as regular as it could be made by the avowed maxims of aristocracy; but the higher offices of state being gradually shared by plebeians, the effects of former distinctions were prevented or weakened. The laws that were made to adjust the pretensions of different orders were easily eluded. The populace became a faction, and their alliance was the surest road to dominion. Clodius, by a pretended adoption into a plebeian family, was qualified to become tribune of the people; and Caesar, by espousing the cause of this faction, made his way to usurpation and tyranny.
In such fleeting and transient scenes, forms of government are only modes of proceeding, in which every subsequent age may differ from the former. Faction is ever ready to seize all occasional advantages; and mankind, when in hazard from any party, seldom find a better protection than that of its rival. Cato united with Pompey in opposition to Caesar, and guarded against nothing so much as that reconciliation of parties, which was in effect to be a combination of different leaders against the freedom of the republic. This illustrious personage stood distinguished in his age like a man among children, and was raised above his opponents, as much by the justness of his understanding, and the extent of his penetration, as he was by the manly fortitude and disinterestedness with which he strove to baffle the designs of a vain and childish ambition, that was operating to the ruin of mankind.
Although free constitutions of government seldom or never take their rise from the scheme of any single projector, yet are they often preserved by the vigilance, activity, and zeal, of single men. Happy are they who understand and who chuse this object of care; and happy it is for mankind when it is not chosen too late. It has been reserved to signalize the lives of a Cato or a Brutus, on the eve of fatal revolutions; to foster in secret the indignation of Thrasea and Helvidius; and to occupy the reflections of speculative men in time of corruption. But even in such late and ineffectual examples, it was happy to know, and to value, an object which is so important to mankind. The pursuit, and the love of it, however unsuccessful, has thrown a lustre on human nature.
While the mode of subordination is casual, and forms of government take their rise, chiefly from the manner in which the members of a state have been originally classed, and from a variety of circumstances that procure to particular orders of men a sway in their country, there are certain objects that claim the attention of every government, that lead the apprehensions and the reasonings of mankind in every society, and that not only furnish an employment to statesmen, but in some measure direct the community to those institutions, under the authority of which the magistrate holds his power. Such are the national defence, the distribution of justice, the preservation and internal prosperity of the state. If these objects be neglected, we must apprehend that the very scene in which parties contend for power, for privilege, or equality, must disappear, and society itself no longer exist.
The consideration due to these objects will be pleaded in every public assembly, and will produce, in every political Contest, appeals to that common sense and opinion of mankind, which, struggling with the private views of individuals, and the claims of party, may be considered as the great legislator of nations.
The measures required for the attainment of most national objects, are connected together, and must be jointly pursued: they are often the same. The force which is prepared for defence against foreign enemies, may be likewise employed to keep the peace at home: the laws made to secure the rights and liberties of the people, may serve as encouragements to population and commerce: and every community, without considering how its objects may be classed or distinguished by speculative men, is, in every instance, obliged to assume or to retain that form which is best fitted to preserve its advantages, or to avert its misfortunes.
Nations, however, like private men, have their favourite ends, and their principal pursuits, which diversify their manners, as well as their establishments. They even attain to the same ends by different means; and, like men who make their fortune by different professions, retain the habits of their principal calling in every condition at which they arrive. The Romans became wealthy in pursuing their conquests; and probably, for a certain period, increased the numbers of mankind, while their disposition to war seemed to threaten the earth with desolation. Some modern nations proceed to dominion and enlargement on the maxims of commerce; and while they only intend to accumulate riches at home, continue to gain an imperial ascendant abroad.
The characters of the warlike and the commercial are variously combined: they are formed in different degrees by the influence of circumstances that more or less frequently give rise to war, and excite the desire of conquest; of circumstances that leave a people in quiet to improve their domestic resources, or to purchase, by the fruits of their industry, from foreigners, what their own soil and their climate deny.
The members of every community are more or less occupied with matters of state, in proportion as their constitution admits them to a share in the government, and summons up their attention to objects of a public nature. A people are cultivated or unimproved in their talents, in proportion as those talents are employed in the practice of arts, and in the affairs of society: they are improved or corrupted in their manners, in proportion as they are encouraged and directed to act on the maxims of freedom and justice, or as they are degraded into a state of meanness and servitude. But whatever advantages are obtained, or whatever evils are avoided, by nations, in any of these important respects, are generally considered as mere occasional incidents: they are seldom admitted among the objects of policy, or entered among the reasons of state.
We hazard being treated with ridicule, when we require political establishments, merely to cultivate the talents of men, and to inspire the sentiments of a liberal mind: we must offer some motive of interest, or some hopes of external advantage, to animate the pursuits, or to direct the measures, of ordinary men. They would be brave, ingenious, and eloquent, only from necessity, or for the sake of profit: they magnify the uses of wealth, population, and the other resources of war; but often forget that these are of no consequence without the direction of able capacities, and without the supports of a national vigour. We may expect, therefore, to find among states the bias to a particular policy taken from the regards to public safety; from the desire of securing personal freedom, or private property; seldom from the consideration of moral effects, or from a view to the genius of mankind.
When we imagine what the Romans must have felt when the tidings came that the flower of their city had perished at Cannae; when we think of what the orator had in his mind when he said, 'That the youth among the people was like the spring among the seasons;' when we hear of the joy with which the huntsman and the warrior is adopted, in America, to sustain the honours of the family and the nation; we are made to feel the most powerful motives to regard the increase and preservation of our fellow-citizens. Interest, affection, and views of policy, combine to recommend this object; and it is treated with entire neglect only by the tyrant who mistakes his own advantage, by the statesman who trifles with the charge committed to his care, or by the people who are become corrupted, and who consider their fellow-subjects as rivals in interest, and competitors in their lucrative pursuits.
Among rude societies, and among small communities in general, who are engaged in frequent struggles and difficulties, the preservation and increase of their members is a most important object. The American rates his defeat from the numbers of men he has lost, or he estimates his victory from the prisoners he has made; not from his having remained the master of a field, or from his being driven from a ground on which he encountered his enemy. A man with whom he can associate in all his pursuits, whom he can embrace as his friend; in whom he finds an object to his affections, and an aid in his struggles, is to him the most precious accession of fortune.
Even where the friendship of particular men is out of the question, the society, being occupied in forming a party that may defend itself, and annoy its enemy, finds no object of greater moment than the increase of its numbers. Captives who may be adopted, or children of either sex who may be reared for the public, are accordingly considered as the richest spoil of an enemy. The practice of the Romans in admitting the vanquished to share in the privileges of their city, the rape of the Sabines, and the subsequent coalition with that people, were not singular or uncommon examples in the history of mankind. The same policy has been followed, and was natural and obvious where-ever the strength of a state consisted in the arms of a few, and where men were valued in themselves, distinct from the consideration of estate or of fortune.
In rude ages, therefore, while mankind subsist in small divisions, it should appear, that if the earth be thinly peopled, this defect does not arise from a disregard to numbers on the part of states. It is even probable, that the most effectual course that could be taken to increase the species, would be, to prevent the coalition of nations, and to oblige mankind to act in such small bodies as would make the preservation of their numbers a principal object of their care. This alone, it is true, would not be sufficient: we must probably add the encouragement for rearing families, which mankind enjoy under a favourable policy, and the means of subsistence which they owe to the practice of arts.
The mother is unwilling to increase her offspring, and is ill provided to rear them, where she herself is obliged to undergo great hardships in the search of her food. In North America, we are told, that she joins to the reserves of a cold or a moderate temperament, the abstinencies to which she submits from the consideration of this difficulty. In her apprehension, it is matter of prudence, and of conscience, to bring one child to the condition of feeding on venison, and of following on foot, before she will hazard a new burden in travelling the woods.
In warmer latitudes, by the different temperament, perhaps, which the climate bestows, and by a greater facility in procuring subsistence, the numbers of mankind increase, while the object itself is neglected; and the commerce of the sexes, without any concern for population, is made a subject of mere debauch. In some places, we are told, it is even made the object of a barbarous policy, to defeat or to restrain the intentions of nature. In the island of Formosa, the males are prohibited to marry before the age of forty; and females, if pregnant before the age of thirty-six, have an abortion procured by order of the magistrate, who employs a violence that endangers the life of the mother, together with that of the child.11
In China, the permission given to parents to kill or to expose their children, was probably meant as a relief from the burden of a numerous offspring. But notwithstanding what we hear of a practice so repugnant to the human heart, it has not, probably, the effects in restraining population, which it seems to threaten; but, like many other institutions, has an influence the reverse of what it seemed to portend. The parents marry with this means of relief in their view, and the children are saved.
However important the object of population may be held by mankind, it will be difficult to find, in the history of civil policy, any wise or effectual establishments solely calculated to obtain it. The practice of rude or feeble nations is inadequate, or cannot surmount the obstacles which are found in their manner of life. The growth of industry, the endeavours of men to improve their arts, to extend their commerce, to secure their possessions, and to establish their rights, are indeed the most effectual means to promote population: but they arise from a different motive; they arise from regards to interest and personal safety. They are intended for the benefit of those who exist, not to procure the increase of their numbers.
It is, in the mean time, of importance to know, that where a people are fortunate in their political establishments, and successful in the pursuits of industry, their population is likely to grow in proportion. Most of the other devices thought of for this purpose, only serve to frustrate the expectations of mankind, or to mislead their attention.
In planting a colony, in striving to repair the occasional wastes of pestilence or war, the immediate contrivance of statesmen may be useful; but if in reasoning on the increase of mankind in general, we overlook their freedom, and their happiness, our aids to population become weak and ineffectual. They only lead us to work on the surface, or to pursue a shadow, while we neglect the substantial concern; and in a decaying state, make us tamper with palliatives, while the roots of an evil are suffered to remain. Octavius revived or inforced the laws that related to population at Rome: but it may be said of him, and of many sovereigns in a similar situation, that they administer the poison, while they are devising the remedy; and bring a damp and a palsy on the principles of life, while they endeavour, by external applications to the skin, to restore the bloom of a decayed and a sickly body.
It is indeed happy for mankind, that this important object is not always dependent on the wisdom of sovereigns, or the policy of single men. A people intent on freedom, find for themselves a condition in which they may follow the propensities of nature with a more signal effect, than any which the councils of state could devise. When sovereigns, or projectors, are the supposed masters of this subject, the best they can do, is to be cautious of hurting an interest they cannot greatly promote, and of making breaches they cannot repair.
'When nations were divided into small territories, and petty commonwealths, where each man had his house and his field to himself, and each county had its capital free and independent; what a happy situation for mankind,' says Mr Hume, 'how favourable to industry and agriculture, to marriage and to population!' Yet here were probably no schemes of the statesman for rewarding the married, or for punishing the single; for inviting foreigners to settle, or for prohibiting the departure of natives. Every citizen finding a possession secure, and a provision for his heirs, was not discouraged by the gloomy fears of oppression or want: and where every other function of nature was free, that which furnished the nursery could not be restrained. Nature has required the powerful to be just; but she has not otherwise intrusted the preservation of her works to their visionary plans. What fewel can the statesman add to the fires of youth? Let him only not smother it, and the effect is secure. Where we oppress or degrade mankind with one hand, it is vain, like Octavius, to hold out in the other, the baits of marriage, or the whip to barrenness. It is vain to invite new inhabitants from abroad, while those we already possess are made to hold their tenure with uncertainty; and to tremble, not only under the prospect of a numerous family, but even under that of a precarious and doubtful subsistence for themselves. The arbitrary sovereign, who has made this the condition of his subjects, owes the remains of his people to the powerful instincts of nature, not to any device of his own.
Men will croud where the situation is tempting, and, in a few generations, will people every country to the measure of its means of subsistence. They will even increase under circumstances that portend a decay. The frequent wars of the Romans, and of many a thriving community; even the pestilence, and the market for slaves, find their supply, if, without destroying the source, the drain become regular; and if an issue is made for the offspring, without unsettling the families from which they arise. Where a happier provision is made for mankind, the statesman, who by premiums to marriage, by allurements to foreigners, or by confining the natives at home, apprehends, that he has made the numbers of his people to grow, is often like the fly in the fable, who admired its success, in turning the wheel, and in moving the carriage: he has only accompanied what was already in motion; he has dashed with his oar, to hasten the cataract; and waved with his fan, to give speed to the winds.
Projects of mighty settlement, and of sudden population, however successful in the end, are always expensive to mankind. Above a hundred thousand peasants, we are told, were yearly driven, like so many cattle, to Petersburgh, in the first attempts to replenish that settlement, and yearly perished for want of subsistence.12 The Indian only attempts to settle in the neighbourhood of the plantain,13 and while his family increases, he adds a tree to the walk.
If the plantain, the cocoa, or the palm, were sufficient to maintain an inhabitant, the race of men in the warmer climates might become as numerous as the trees of the forest. But in many parts of the earth, from the nature of the climate, and the soil, the spontaneous produce being next to nothing; the means of subsistence are the fruits only of labour and skill. If a people, while they retain their frugality, increase their industry, and improve their arts, their numbers must grow in proportion. Hence it is, that the cultivated fields of Europe are more peopled than the wilds of America, or the plains of Tartary.
But even the increase of mankind which attends the accumulation of wealth, has its limits. The necessary of life is a vague and a relative term: it is one thing in the opinion of the savage; another in that of the polished citizen: it has a reference to the fancy, and to the habits of living. While arts improve, and riches increase; while the possessions of individuals, or their prospects of gain, come up to their opinion of what is required to settle a family, they enter on its cares with alacrity. But when the possession, however redundant, falls short of the standard, and a fortune supposed sufficient for marriage is attained with difficulty, population is checked, or begins to decline. The citizen, in his own apprehension, returns to the state of the savage; his children, he thinks, must perish for want; and he quits a scene overflowing with plenty, because he has not the fortune which his supposed rank, or his wishes, require. No ultimate remedy is applied to this evil, by merely accumulating wealth; for rare and costly materials, whatever these are, continue to be sought; and if silks and pearl are made common, men will begin to covet some new decorations, which the wealthy alone can procure. If they are indulged in their humour, their demands are repeated: For it is the continual increase of riches, not any measure attained, that keeps the craving imagination at ease.
Men are tempted to labour, and to practise lucrative arts, by motives of interest. Secure to the workman the fruit of his labour, give him the prospects of independence or freedom, the public has found a faithful minister in the acquisition of wealth, and a faithful steward in hoarding what he has gained. The statesman in this, as in the case of population itself, can do little more than avoid doing mischief. It is well, if, in the beginning of commerce, he knows how to repress the frauds to which it is subject. Commerce, if continued, is the branch in which men committed to the effects of their own experience, are least apt to go wrong.
The trader, in rude ages, is short-sighted, fraudulent, and mercenary; but in the progress and advanced state of his art, his views are enlarged, his maxims are established: he becomes punctual, liberal, faithful, and enterprising; and in the period of general corruption, he alone has every virtue, except the force to defend his acquisitions. He needs no aid from the state, but its protection; and is often in himself its most intelligent and respectable member. Even in China, we are informed, where pilfering, fraud, and corruption, are the reigning practice with all the other orders of men, the great merchant is ready to give, and to procure confidence: while his countrymen act on the plans and under the restrictions of a police adjusted to knaves, he acts on the reasons of trade, and the maims of mankind.
If population be connected with national wealth, liberty and personal security is the great foundation of both: and if this foundation be laid in the state, nature has secured the increase and the industry of its members; the one by desires the most ardent in the human frame; the other by a consideration the most uniform and constant of any that possesses the mind. The great object of policy, therefore, with respect to both, is, to secure to the family its means of subsistence and settlement; to protect the industrious in the pursuit of his occupation; to reconcile the restrictions of police, and the social affections of mankind, with their separate and interested pursuits.
In matters of particular profession, industry, and trade, the experienced practitioner is the master, and every general reasoner is a novice. The object in commerce is to make the individual rich; the more he gains for himself, the more he augments the wealth of his country. If a protection be required, it must be granted; if crimes and frauds be committed, they must be repressed; and government can pretend to no more. When the refined politician would lend an active hand, he only multiplies interruptions and grounds of complaint; when the merchant forgets his own interest to lay plans for his country, the period of vision and chimera is near, and the solid basis of commerce withdrawn. He might be told, perhaps, that while he pursues his advantage, and gives no cause of complaint, the interest of commerce is safe.
The general police of France, proceeding on a supposition that the exportation of corn must drain the country where it has grown, had, till of late, laid that branch of commerce under a severe prohibition. The English landholder and the farmer had credit enough to obtain a premium for exportation, to favour the sale of their commodity; and the event has shewn, that private interest is a better patron of commerce and plenty, than the refinements of state. One nation lays the refined plan of a settlement on the continent of North America, and trusts little to the conduct of traders and short-sighted men; another leaves men to find their own position in a state of freedom, and to think for themselves. The active industry and the limited views of the one, made a thriving settlement; the great projects of the other were still in idea.
But I willingly quit a subject in which I am not much conversant, and still less engaged by the views with which I write. Speculations on commerce and wealth have been delivered by the ablest writers, who have left nothing so important to be offered on the subject, as the general caution, not to consider these articles as making the sum of national felicity, or the principal object of any state.
One nation, in search of gold and of precious metals, neglect the domestic sources of wealth, and become dependent on their neighbours for the necessaries of life: another so intent on improving their internal resources, and on increasing their commerce, that they become dependent on foreigners for the defence of what they acquire. It is even painful in conversation to find the interests of trade give the tone to our reasonings, and to find a subject perpetually offered as the great business of national councils, to which any interposition of government is seldom, with propriety, applied, or never beyond the protection it affords.
We complain of a want of public spirit; but whatever may be the effect of this error in practice, in speculation it is none of our faults: we reason perpetually for the public; but the want of national views were frequently better than the possession of those we express: we would have nations, like a company of merchants, think of nothing but the increase of their stock; assemble to deliberate on profit and loss; and, like them too, intrust their protection to a force which they do not possess in themselves.
Because men, like other animals, are maintained in multitudes, where the necessaries of life are amassed, and the store of wealth is enlarged, we drop our regards for the happiness, the moral and political character of a people; and anxious for the herd we would propagate, carry our views no farther than the stall and the pasture. We forget that the few have often made a prey of the many; that to the poor there is nothing so enticing as the coffers of the rich; and that when the price of freedom comes to be paid, the heavy sword of the victor may fall into the opposite scale.
Whatever be the actual conduct of nations in this matter, it is certain, that many of our arguments would hurry us, for the sake of wealth and of population, into a scene where mankind being exposed to corruption, are unable to defend their possessions; and where they are, in the end, subject to oppression and ruin. We cut off the roots, while we would extend the branches, and thicken the foliage.
It is possibly from an opinion that the virtues of men are secure, that some who turn from their attention to public affairs, think of nothing but the numbers and wealth of a people: it is from a dread of corruption, that others think of nothing but how to preserve the national virtues. Human society has great obligations to both. They are opposed to one another only by mistake; and even when united, have not strength sufficient to combat the wretched party, that refers every object to personal interest, and that cares not for the safety or increase of any stock but its own.
It is impossible to ascertain how much of the policy of any state has a reference to war, or to national safety. 'Our legislator,' says the Cretan in Plato, 'thought that nations were by nature in a state of hostility. he took his measures accordingly; and observing that all the possessions of the vanquished pertain to the victor, he held it ridiculous to propose any benefit to his country, before he had provided that it should not be conquered.'
Crete, which is supposed to have been a model of military policy, is commonly considered as the original from which the celebrated laws of Lycurgus were copied. Mankind, it seems, in every instance, must have some palpable object to direct their proceedings, and must have a view to some point of external utility, even in the choice of their virtues. The discipline of Sparta was military. and a sense of its use in the field, more than the force of unwritten and traditionary laws, or the supposed engagement of the public faith obtained by the lawgiver, may have induced this people to persevere in the observance of many rules, which to other nations do not appear necessary, except in the presence of an enemy.
Every institution of this singular people gave a lesson of obedience, of fortitude, and of zeal for the public: but it is remarkable that they chose to obtain, by their virtues alone, what other nations are fain to buy with their treasure; and it is well known, that, in the course of their history, they came to regard their discipline merely on account of its moral effects. They had experienced the happiness of a mind courageous, disinterested, and devoted to its best affections; and they studied to preserve this character in themselves, by resigning the interests of ambition, and the hopes of military glory, even by sacrificing the numbers of their people.
It was the fate of Spartans who escaped from the field, not of those who perished with Cleombrotus at Leuctra, that filled the cottages of Lacedemon with mourning and serious reflection:14 it was the fear of having their citizens corrupted abroad, by intercourse with servile and mercenary men, that made them quit the station of leaders in the Persian war, and leave Athens, during years, to pursue, unrivalled, that career of ambition and fifty profit, by which she made such acquisitions of power and of wealth.15
We have had occasion to observe, that in every rude state, the great business is war; and that in barbarous times, mankind, being generally divided into small parties, are engaged in almost perpetual hostilities. This circumstance gives the military leader a continued ascendant in his country, and inclines every people, during warlike ages, to monarchical government.
The conduct of an army can least of all subjects be divided: and we may be justly surprised to find, that the Romans, after many ages of military experience, and after having recently felt the arms of Hannibal, in many encounters, associated two leaders at the head of the same army, and left them to adjust their pretensions, by taking the command, each a day in his turn. The same people, however, on other occasions, thought it expedient to suspend the exercise of every subordinate magistracy, and in the time of great alarms, to intrust all the authority of the state in the hands of one person.
Republics have generally found it necessary, in the conduct of war, to place great confidence in the executive branch of their government. When a consul at Rome had proclaimed his levies, and administered the military oath, he became from that moment master of the public treasury, and of the lives of those who were under his command.16 The axe and the rods were no longer a mere badge of magistracy, or an empty pageant, in the hands of the lictor. they were, at the command of the father, stained with the blood of his own children; and fell, without appeal, on the mutinous and the disobedient of every condition.
In every free state, there is a perpetual necessity to distinguish the maxims of martial law from those of the civil; and he who has not learned to give an implicit obedience, where the state has given him a military leader, and to resign his personal freedom in the field, from the same magnanimity with which he maintains it in the political deliberations of his country, has yet to learn the most important lesson of civil society, and is only fit to occupy a place in a rude, or in a corrupted state, where the principles of mutiny and of servility being joined, the one or the other is frequently adopted in the wrong place.
From a regard to what is necessary in war, nations inclined to popular or aristocratical government, have had recourse to establishments that bordered on monarchy. Even where the highest office of the state was in common times administered by a plurality of persons, the whole power and authority belonging to it was, on particular occasions, committed to one; and upon great alarms, when the political fabric was shaken or endangered, a monarchical power has been applied, like a prop, to secure the state against the rage of the tempest. Thus were the dictators occasionally named at Rome, and the stadtholders in the United Provinces; and thus, in mixed governments, the royal prerogative is occasionally enlarged, by the temporary suspension of laws,17 and the barriers of liberty appear to be removed, in order to vest a dictatorial power in the hands of the king.
Had mankind, therefore, no view but to warfare, it is probable that they would continue to prefer monarchical government to any other; or at least that every nation, in order to procure secret and united councils, would intrust the executive power with unlimited authority. But, happily for civil society, men have objects of a different sort: and experience has taught, that although the conduct of armies requires an absolute and undivided command; yet a national force is best formed, where numbers of men are inured to equality; and where the meanest citizen may consider himself, upon occasion, as destined to command as well as to obey. It is here that the dictator finds a spirit and a force prepared to second his councils; it is here too that the dictator himself is formed, and that numbers of leaders are presented to the public choice; it is here that the prosperity of a state is independent of single men, and that a wisdom which never dies, with a system of military arrangements permanent and regular, can, even under the greatest misfortunes, prolong the national struggle. With this advantage, the Romans, finding a number of distinguished leaders arise in succession, were at all times almost equally prepared to contend with their enemies of Asia or Africa; while the fortune of those enemies, on the contrary, depended on the casual appearance of singular men, of a Mithridates, or of a Hannibal.
The soldier, we are told, has his point of honour, and a fashion of thinking, which he wears with his sword. This point of honour in free and uncorrupted states, is a zeal for the public; and war to them, is an operation of passions, not the mere pursuit of a calling. Its good and its ill effects are felt in extremes: the friend is made to experience the warmest proofs of attachment, the enemy the severest effects of animosity. On this system the celebrated nations of antiquity made war under their highest attainments of civility, and under their greatest degrees of refinement.
In small and rude societies, the individual finds himself attacked in every national war; and none can propose to devolve his defence on another. 'The King of Spain is a great prince,' said an American chief to the governor of Jamaica, who was preparing a body of troops to join in an enterprise against the Spaniards: 'do you propose to make war upon so great a king with so small a force?' Being told that the forces he saw were to be joined by troops from Europe, and that the governor could then command no more: 'Who are these then,' said the American, 'who form this croud of spectators? are they not your people? and why do you not all go forth to so great a war?' He was answered, That the spectators were merchants, and other inhabitants, who took no part in the service: 'Would they be merchants still,' continued this statesman, 'if the King of Spain was to attack you here? For my part, I do not think that merchants should be permitted to live in any country: when I go to war, I leave no body at home but the women.' It should seem that this simple warrior considered merchaNts as a kind of neutral persons, who took no part in the quarrels of their country; and that he did not know how much war itself may be made a subject of traffic; what mighty armies may be put in motion from behind the counter; how often human blood is, without any national animosity, bought and sold for bills of exchange; and how often the prince, the nobles, and the statesmen, in many a polished nation, might, in his account, be considered as merchants.
In the progress of arts and of policy, the members of every state are divided into classes; and in the commencement of this distribution, there is no distinction more serious than that of the warrior and the pacific inhabitant; no more is required to place men in the relation of master and slave. Even when the rigours of an established slavery abate, as they have done in modern Europe, in consequence of a protection, and a property, allowed to the mechanic and labourer, this distinction serves still to separate the noble from the base, and to point out that class of men who are destined to reign and to domineer in their country.
It was certainly never foreseen by mankind, that in the pursuit of refinement, they were to reverse this order; or even that they were to place the government, and the military force of nations, in different hands. But is it equally unforseen, that the former order may again take place? and that the pacific citizen, however distinguished by privilege and rank, must one day bow to the person with whom he has intrusted his sword. If such revolutions should actually follow, will this new master revive in his own order the spirit of the noble and the free? Will he renew the characters of the warrior and the statesman? Will he restore to his country the civil and military virtues? I am afraid to reply. Montesquieu observes, that the government of Rome, even under the emperors, became, in the hands of the troops, elective and republican: but the Fabii or the Bruti were heard of no more, after the praetorian bands became the republic.
We have enumerated some of the heads under which a people, as they emerge from barbarity, may come to be classed. Such are, the nobility, the people, the adherents of the prince; and even the priesthood have not been forgotten: when we arrive at times of refinement, the army must be joined to the list. The departments of civil government and of war being severed, and the pre-eminence being given to the statesman, the ambitious will naturally devolve the military service on those who are contented with a subordinate station. They who have the greatest share in the division of fortune, and the greatest interest in defending their country, having resigned the sword, must pay for what they have ceased to perform; and armies, not only at a distance from home, but in the very bosom of their country, are subsisted by pay. A discipline is invented to inure the soldier to perform, from habit, and from the fear of punishment, those hazardous duties, which the love of the public, or a national spirit, no longer inspire.
When we consider the breach that such an establishment makes in the system of national virtues, it is unpleasant to observe, that most nations who have run the career of civil arts, have, in some degree, adopted this measure. Not only states, which either have wars to maintain, or precarious possessions to defend at a distance; not only a prince jealous of his authority, or in haste to gain the advantage of discipline, are disposed to employ foreign troops, or to keep standing armies; but even republics, with little of the former occasion, and none of the motives which prevail in monarchy, have been found to tread in the same path.
If military arrangements occupy so considerable a place in the domestic policy of nations, the actual consequences of war are equally important in the history of mankind. Glory and spoil were the earliest subject of quarrels; a concession of superiority, or a ransom, were the prices of peace. The love of safety, and the desire of dominion, equally lead mankind to wish for accessions of strength. Whether as victors or as vanquished, they tend to a coalition; and powerful nations considering a province, or a fortress acquired on their frontier, as so much gained, are perpetually intent on extending their limits.
The maxims of conquest are not always to be distinguished from those of self-defence. If a neighbouring state be dangerous, if it be frequently troublesome, it is a maxim founded in the consideration of safety, as well as of conquest, That it ought to be weakened or disarmed: If, being onCe reduced, it be disposed to renew the contest, it must from thenceforward be governed in form. Rome never avowed any other maxims of conquest; and she every where sent her insolent armies, under the specious pretence of procuring to herself and her allies a lasting peace, which she alone would reserve the power to disturb.
The equality of those alliances which the Grecian states formed against each other, maintained, for a time, their independence and separation; and that time was the shining and the happy period of their story. It was prolonged more by vigilance and conduct which they severally applied, than by the moderation of their councils, or by any peculiarities of domestic policy which arrested their progress. The victors were sometimes contented, with merely changing to a resemblance, of their own forms the government of the states they subdued. What the next step might have been in the progress of impositions, is hard to determine. But when we consider, that one party fought for the imposition of tributes, another for the ascendant in war, it cannot be doubted, that the Athenians, from a national ambition, and from the desire of wealth, and the Spartans, though they originally only meant to defend themselves, and their allies, were both, at last, equally willing to become the masters of Greece; and were preparing for each other at home, that yoke, which both, together with their confederates, were obliged to receive from abroad.
In the conquests of Philip, the desire of self-preservation and security seemed to be blended with the ambition natural to princes. He turned his arms successively to the quarters on which he found himself hurt, from which he had been alarmed or provoked: and when he had subdued the Greeks, he proposed to lead them against their ancient enemy of Persia. In this he laid the plan which Was carried into execution by his son.
The Romans, become the masters of Italy, and the conquerors of Carthage, had been alarmed on the side of Macedon, and were led to cross a new sea in search of a new field, on which to exercise their military force. In prosecution of their wars, from the earliest to the latest date of their history, without intending the very conquests they made, perhaps without foreseeing what advantage they were to reap from the subjection of distant provinces, or in what manner they were to govern their new acquisitions, they still proceeded to seize what came successively within their reach; and, stimulated by a policy which engaged them in perpetual wars, which led to perpetual victory and accessions of territory, they extended the frontier of a state, which, but a few centuries before, had been confined within the skirts of a village, to the Euphrates, the Danube, the Weser, the Forth, and the Ocean.
It is vain to affirm, that the genius of any nation is adverse to conquest. Its real interests indeed most commonly are so; but every state which is prepared to defend itself, and to obtain victories, is likewise in hazard of being tempted to conquer.
In Europe, where mercenary and disciplined armies are every where formed, and ready to traverse the earth, where, like a flood pent up by slender banks, they are only restrained by political forms, or a temporary balance of power; if the sluices should break, what inundations may we not expect to behold? Effeminate kingdoms and empires are spread from the sea of Corea to the Atlantic ocean. Every state, by the defeat of its troops, may be turned into a province; every army opposed in the field to-day may be hired to-morrow; and every victory gained, may give the accession of a new military force to the victor.
The Romans, with inferior arts of communication both by sea and land, maintained their dominion in a considerable part of Europe, Asia, and Africa, over fierce and intractable nations: What may not the fleets and armies of Europe, with the access they have by commerce to every part of the world, and the facility of their conveyance, effect, if that ruinous maxim should prevail, That the grandeur of a nation is to be estimated from the extent of its territory; or, That the interest of any particular people consists in reducing their neighbours to servitude?
If war, either for depredation or defence, were the principal object of nations, every tribe would, from its earliest state, aim at the condition of a Tartar horde; and in all its successes would hasten to the grandeur of a Tartar empire. The military leader would supersede the civil magistrate; and preparations to fly with all their possessions, or to pursue with all their forces, would, in every society, make the sum of their public arrangements.
He who first on the banks of the Wolga, or the Jenisca, had taught the Scythian to mount the horse, to move his cottage on wheels, to harass his enemy alike by his attacks and his flights, to handle at full speed the lance and the bow, and when beat from the field, to leave his arrows in the wind to meet his pursuer; he who had taught his countrymen to use the same animal for every purpose of the dairy, the shambles, and the field; would be esteemed the founder of his nation; or, like Ceres and Bacchus among the Greeks, would be invested with the honours of a god, as the reward of his useful inventions. Amidst such institutions, the names and atchievements of Hercules and Jason might have been transmitted to posterity; but those of Lycurgus or Solon, the heroes of political society, could have gained no reputation, either fabulous or real, in the records of fame.
Every tribe of warlike barbarians may entertain among themselves the strongest sentiments of affection and honour, while they carry to the rest of mankind the aspect of banditti and robbers.18 They may be indifferent to interest, and superior to danger; but our sense of humanity, our regard to the rights of nations, our admiration of civil wisdom and justice, even our effeminacy itself, make us turn away with contempt, or with horror, from a scene which exhibits so few of our good qualities, and which serve so much to reproach our weakness.
It is in conducting the affairs of civil society, that mankind find the exercise of their best talents, as well as the object of their best affections. It is in being grafted on the advantages of civil society, that the art of war is brought to perfection; that the resources of armies, and the complicated springs to be touched in their conduct, are best understood. The most celebrated warriors were also citizens: opposed to a Roman, or a Greek, the chieftain of Thrace, of Germany, or Gaul, was a novice. The native of Pella learned the principles of his art from Epaminondas and Pelopidas.
If nations, as hath been observed in the preceding section, must adjust their policy on the prospect of war from abroad, they are equally bound to provide for the attainment of peace at home. But there is no peace in the absence of justice. It may subsist with divisions, disputes, and contrary opinions; but not with the commission of wrongs. The injurious, and the injured, are, as implied in the very meaning of the terms, in a state of hostility.
Where men enjoy peace, they owe it either to their mutual regards and affections, or to the restraints of law. Those are the happiest states which procure peace to their members by the first of these methods: but it is sufficiently uncommon to procure it even by the second. The first would with-hold the occasions of war and of competition: the second adjusts the pretensions of men by stipulations and treaties. Sparta taught her citizens not to regard interest: other free nations secure the interest of their members, and consider this as a principal part of their rights.
Law is the treaty to which members of the same community have agreed, and under which the magistrate and the subject continue to enjoy their rights, and to maintain the peace of society. The desire of lucre is the great motive to injuries: law therefore has a principal reference to property. It would ascertain the different methods by which property may be acquired, as by prescription, conveyance, and succession; and it makes the necessary provisions for rendering the possession of property secure.
Beside avarice, there are other motives from which men are unjust; such are pride, malice, envy, and revenge. The law would eradicate the principles themselves, or at least prevent their effects.
From whatever motive wrongs are committed, there are different particulars in which the injured may suffer. He may suffer in his goods, in his person, or in the freedom of his conduct. Nature has made him master of every action which is not injurious to others. The laws of his particular society intitle him perhaps to a determinate station, and bestow on him a certain share in the government of his country. An injury, therefore, which in this respect puts him under any unjust restraint, may be called an infringement of his political rights.
Where the citizen is supposed to have rights of property and of station, and is protected in the exercise of them, he is said to be free; and the very restraints by which he is hindered from the commission of crimes, are a part of his liberty. No person is free, where any person is suffered to do wrong with impunity. Even the despotic prince on his throne, is not an exception to this general rule. He himself is a slave, the moment he pretends that force should decide any contest. The disregard he throws on the rights of his people recoils on himself; and in the general uncertainty of all conditions, there is no tenure more precarious than his own.
From the different particulars to which men refer, in speaking of liberty, whether to the safety of the person and the goods, the dignity of rank, or the participation of political importance, as well as from the different methods by which their rights are secured, they are led to differ in the interpretation of the term; and every people is apt to imagine, that its signification is to be found only among themselves.
Some having thought, that the unequal distribution of wealth is unjust, required a new division of property, as the foundation of freedom. This scheme is suited to democratical government; and in such only it has been admitted with any degree of effect.
New settlements, like that of the people of Israel, and singular establishments, like those of Sparta and Crete, have furnished examples of its actual execution; but in most other states, even the democratical spirit could attain no more than to prolong the struggle for Agrarian laws; to procure, on occasion, the expunging of debts; and to keep the people in mind, under all the distinctions of fortune, that they still had a claim to equality.
The citizen at Rome, at Athens, and in many republics, contended for himself, and his order. The Agrarian law was moved and debated for ages: it served to awaken the mind; it nourished the spirit of equality, and furnished a field on which to exert its force; but was never established with any of its other and more formal effects.
Many of the establishments which serve to defend the weak from oppression, contribute, by securing the possession of property, to favour its unequal division, and to increase the ascendant of those from whom the abuses of power maybe feared.Those abuses were felt very early both at Athens and Rome.19
It has been proposed to prevent the excessive accumulation of wealth in particular hands, by limiting the increase of private fortunes, by prohibiting entails, and by with-holding the right of primogeniture in the succession of heirs. It has been proposed to prevent the ruin of moderate estates, and to restrain the use, and consequently the desire, of great ones, by sumptuary laws. These different methods are more or less consistent with the interests of commerce, and may be adopted, in different degrees, by a people whose national object is wealth: and they have their degree of effect, by inspiring moderation, or a sense of equality, and by stifling the passions by which mankind are prompted to mutual wrongs.
It appears to be, in a particular manner, the object of sumptuary laws, and of the equal division of wealth, to prevent the gratification of vanity, to check the ostentation of superior fortune, and, by this means, to weaken the desire of riches, and to preserve in the breast of the citizen, that moderation and equity which ought to regulate his conduct.
This end is never perfectly attained in any state where the unequal division of property is admitted, and where fortune is allowed to bestow distinction and rank. It is indeed difficult, by any methods whatever, to shut up this source of corruption. Of all the nations whose history is known with certainty, the design itself, and the manner of executing it, appear to have been understood in Sparta alone.
There property was indeed acknowledged by law; but in consequence of certain regulations and practices, the most effectual, it seems, that mankind have hitherto found out, the manners that prevail among simple nations before the establishment of property, were in some measure preserved;20 the passion for riches was, during many ages, suppressed; and the citizen was made to consider himself as the property of his country, not as the owner of a private estate.
It was held ignominious either to buy or to sell the patrimony of a citizen. Slaves were, in every family, intrusted with the care of its effects, and freemen were strangers to lucrative arts; justice was established on a contempt of the ordinary allurement to crimes; and the preservatives of civil liberty applied by the state, were the dispositions that were made to prevail in the hearts of its members.
The individual was relieved from every solicitude that could arise on the head of his fortune; he was educated, and he was employed for life in the service of the public; he was fed at a place of common resort, to which he could carry no distinction but that of his talents and his virtues; his children were th wards and the pupils of the state; he himself was taught to be a parent, and a director to the youth of his country, not the anxious father of a separate family.
This people, we are told, bestowed some care in adorning their persons, and were known from afar by the red or the purple they wore; but could not make their equipage, their buildings, or their furniture, a subject of fancy, or of what we call taste. The carpenter and the house-builder were restricted to the use of the axe and the saw: their workmanship must have been simple, and probably, in respect to its form, continued for ages the same. The ingenuity of the artist was employed in cultivating his own nature, not in adorning the habitations of his fellow-citizens.
On this plan, they had senators, magistrates, leaders of armies, and ministers of state; but no men of fortune. Like the heroes of Homer, they distributed honours by the measure of the cup and the platter. A citizen, who, in his political capacity, was the arbiter of Greece, thought himself honoured by receiving a double portion of plain entertainment at supper. He was active, penetrating, brave, disinterested, and generous; but his estate, his table, and his furniture, might, in our esteem, have marred the lustre of all his virtues. Neighbouring nations, however, applied for commanders to this nursery of statesmen and warriors, as we apply for the practitioners of every art to the countries in which they excel; for cooks to France, and for musicians to Italy.
After all, we are, perhaps, not sufficiently instructed in the nature of the Spartan laws and institutions, to understand in what manner all the ends of this singular state were obtained; but the admiration paid to its people, and the constant reference of contemporary historians to their avowed superiority, will not allow us to question the facts. 'When I observed,' says Xenophon, 'that this nation, though not the most populous, was the most powerful state of Greece, I was seized with wonder, and with an earnest desire to know by what arts it attained its pre-eminence; but when I came to the knowledge of its institutions, my wonder ceased. As one man excels another, and as he who is at pains to cultivate his mind, must surpass the person who neglects it; so the Spartans should excel every nation, being the only state in which virtue is studied as the object of government.'
The subjects of property, considered with a view to subsistence, or even to enjoyment, have little effect in corrupting mankind, or in awakening the spirit of competition and of jealousy; but considered with a view to distinction and honour, where fortune constitutes rank, they excite the most vehement passions, and absorb all the sentiments of the human soul: they reconcile avarice and meanness with ambition and vanity; and lead men through the practice of sordid and mercenary arts to the possession of a supposed elevation and dignity.
Where this source of corruption, on the contrary, is effectually stopped, the citizen is dutiful, and the magistrate upright; any form of government may be wisely administered; places of trust are likely to be well supplied; and by whatever rule office and power are bestowed, it is likely that all the capacity and force that subsists in the state will come to be employed in its service: for on this supposition, experience and abilities are the only guides and the only titles to public confidence; and if citizens be ranged into separate classes, they become mutual checks by the difference of their opinions, not by the opposition of their interested designs.
We may easily account for the censures bestowed on the government of Sparta, by those who considered it merely on the side of its forms. It was not calculated to prevent the practice of crimes, by balancing against each other the selfish and partial dispositions of men; but to inspire the virtues of the soul, to procure innocence by the absence of criminal inclinations, and to derive its internal peace from the indifference of its members to the ordinary motives of strife and disorder. It were trifling to seek for its analogy to any other constitution of state, in which its principal characteristic and distinguishing feature is not to be found. The collegiate sovereignty, the senate, and the ephori, had their counterparts in other republics, and a resemblance has been found in particular to the government of Carthage:21 but what affinity of consequence can be found between a state whose sole object was virtue, and another whose principal object was wealth; between a people whose associated kings, being lodged in the same cottage, had no fortune but their daily food; and a commercial republic, in which a proper estate was required as a necessary qualification for the higher offices of state?
Other petty commonwealths expelled kings, when they became jealous of their designs, or after having experienced their tyranny; here the hereditary succession of kings was preserved: other states were afraid of the intrigues and cabals of their members in competition for dignities; here solicitation was required as the only condition upon which a place in the senate was obtained. A supreme inquisitorial power was, in the persons of the ephori, safely committed to a few men, who were drawn by lot, and without distinction, from every order of the people: and if a contrast to this, as well as to many other articles of the Spartan policy, be required, it may be found in the general history of mankind.
But Sparta, under every supposed error of its form, prospered for ages, by the integrity of its manners, and by the character of its citizens. When that integrity was broken, this people did not languish in the weakness of nations sunk in effeminacy. They fell into the stream by which other states had been carried in the torrent of violent passions, and in the outrage of barbarous times. They ran the career of other nations, after that of ancient Sparta was finished: they built walls, and began to improve their possessions, after they ceased to improve their people; and on this new plan, in their struggle for political life, they survived the system of states that perished under the Macedonian dominion: they lived to act with another which arose in the Achaean league; and were the last community of Greece that became a village in the empire of Rome.
If it should be thought we have dwelt too long on the history of this singular people, it may be remembered, in excuse, that they alone, in the language of Xenophon, made virtue an object of state.
We must be contented to derive our freedom from a different source; to expect justice from the limits which are set to the powers of the magistrate, and to rely for protection on the laws which are made to secure the estate, and the person of the subject. We live in societies, where men must be rich, in order to be great; where pleasure itself is often pursued from vanity; where the desire of a supposed happiness serves to inflame the worst of passions, and is itself the foundation of misery; where public justice, like fetters applied to the body, may, without inspiring the sentiments of candour and equity, prevent the actual commission of crimes.
Mankind come under this description the moment they are seized with their passions for riches and power. But their description in every instance is mixed: in the best there is an alloy of evil; in the worst a mixture of good. Without any establishments to preserve their manners, besides penal laws, and the restraints of police, they derive, from instinctive feelings, a love of integrity and candour, and, from the very contagion of society itself, an esteem for what is honourable and praise-worthy. They derive, from their union, and joint opposition to foreign enemies, a zeal for their own community, and courage to maintain its rights. If the frequent neglect of virtue as a political object, tend to discredit the understandings of men, its lustre, and its frequency, as a spontaneous offspring of the heart, will restore the honours of
our nature. In every casual and mixed state of the national manners, the safety of every individual, and his political consequence, depends much on himself, but more on the party to which he is joined. For this reason, all who feel a common interest, are apt to unite in parties; and, as far as that interest requires, mutually support each other.
Where the citizens of any free community are of different orders, each order has a peculiar set of claims and pretensions: relatively to the other members of the state, it is a party; relatively to the differences of interest among its own members, it may admit of numberless subdivisions. But in every state there are two interests very readily apprehended; that of a prince and his adherents, that of a nobility, or of any temporary faction, opposed to the people.
Where the sovereign power is reserved by the collective body, it appears unnecessary to think of additional establishments for securing the rights of the citizen, But it is difficult, if not impossible, for the collective body to exercise this power in a manner that supersedes the necessity of every other political caution.
If popular assemblies assume every function of government; and if, in the same tumultuous manner in which they can, with great propriety, express their feelings, the sense of their rights, and their animosity to foreign or domestic enemies, they pretend to deliberate on points of national conduct, or to decide questions of equity and justice; the public is exposed to manifold inconveniencies; and popular governments would, of all others, be the most subject to errors in administration, and to weakness in the execution of public measures.
To avoid these disadvantages, the people are always contented to delegate part of their powers. They establish a senate to debate, and to prepare, if not to determine, questions that are brought to the collective body for a final resolution. They commit the executive power to some council of this sort, or to a magistrate who presides in their meetings. Under the use of this necessary and common expedient, even while democratical forms are most carefully guarded, there is one party of the few, another of the many. One attacks, the other defends; and they are both ready to assume in their turns. But though, in reality, a great danger to liberty arises on the part of the people themselves, who, in times of corruption, are easily made the instruments of usurpation and tyranny; yet, in the ordinary aspect of government, the executive carries an air of superiority, and the rights of the people seem always exposed to incroachment.
Though on the day that the Roman people assembled in their tribes, the senators mixed with the croud, and the consul was no more than the servant of the multitude; yet, when this awful meeting was dissolved, the senators met to prescribe business for their sovereign, and the consul went armed with the axe and the rods, to teach every Roman, in his separate capacity, the submission which he owed to the state.
Thus, even where the collective body is sovereign, they are assembled only occasionally: and though on such occasions they determine every question relative to their rights and their interests as a people, and can assert their freedom with irresistible force; yet they do not think themselves, nor are they in reality, safe, without a more constant and more uniform power operating in their favour.
The multitude is every where strong; but requires, for the safety of its members, when separate as well as when assembled, a head to direct and to employ its strength. For this purpose, the ephori, we are told, were established at Sparta, the council of a hundred at Carthage, and the tribunes at Rome. So prepared, the popular party has, in many instances, been able to cope with its adversaries, and has even trampled on the powers, whether aristocratical or monarchical, with which it would have been otherwise unequally matched. The state, in such cases, commonly suffered by the delays, interruptions, and confusions, which popular leaders, from private envy, or a prevailing jealousy of the great, seldom failed to create in the proceedings of government.
Where the people, as in some larger communities, have only a share in the legislature, they cannot overwhelm the collateral powers, who having likewise a share, are in condition to defend themselves: where they act only by their representatives, their force may be uniformly employed. And they may make part in a constitution of government more lasting than any of those in which the people possessing or pretending to the entire legislature, are, when assembled, the tyrants, and, when dispersed, the slaves, of a distempered state. In governments properly mixed, the popular interest, finding a counterpoise in that of the prince or of the nobles, a balance is actually established between them, in which the public freedom and the public order are made to consist.
From some such casual arrangement of different interests, all the varieties of mixed government proceed; and on the degree of consideration which every separate interest can procure to itself, depends the equity of the laws they enact, and the necessity they are able to impose, of adhering strictly to the terms of law in its execution. States are accordingly unequally qualified to conduct the business of legislation, and unequally fortunate in the completeness, and regular observance, of their civil code.
In democratical establishments, citizens, feeling themselves possessed of the sovereignty, are not equally anxious, with the subject of other governments, to have their rights explained, or secured, by actual statute. They trust to personal vigour, to the support of party, and to the sense of the public.
If the collective body perform the office of judge, as well as of legislator, they seldom think of devising rules for their own direction, and are found more seldom to follow any determinate rule, after it is made. They dispense, at one time, with what they enacted at another; and in their judicative, perhaps even more than in their legislative, capacity, are guided by passions and partialities that arise from circumstances of the case before them.
But under the simplest governments of a different sort, whether aristocracy or monarchy, there is a necessity for law, and there are a variety of interests to be adjusted in framing every statute. The sovereign wishes to give stability and order to administration, by express and promulgated rules. The subject wishes to know the conditions and limits of his duty. He acquiesces, or he revolts, according as the terms on which he is made to live with the sovereign, or with his fellow-subjects, are, or are not, consistent with the sense of his rights.
Neither the monarch, nor the council of nobles, where either is possessed of the sovereignty, can pretend to govern, or to judge at discretion. No magistrate, whether temporary or hereditary, can with safety neglect that reputation for justice and equity, from which his authority, and the respect that is paid to his person, are in a great measure derived. Nations, however, have been fortunate in the tenor, and in the execution of their laws, in proportion as they have admitted every order of the people, by representation or otherwise, to an actual share of the legislature. Under establishments of this sort, law is literally a treaty, to which the patties concerned have agreed, and have given their opinion in settling its terms. The interests to be affected by a law, are likewise consulted in making it. Every class propounds an objection, suggests an addition or an amendment of its own. They proceed to adjust, by stature, every subject of controversy: and while they continue to enjoy their freedom, they continue to multiply laws, and to accumulate volumes, as if they could remove every possible ground of dispute, and were secure of their rights, merely by having put them in writing.
Rome and England, under their mixed governments, the one inclining to democracy, the other to monarchy, have proved the great legislators among nations. The first has left the foundation, and great part of the superstructure of its civil code, to the continent of Europe: the other, in its island, has carried the authority and government of law to a point of perfection, which they never before attained in the history of mankind.
Under such favourable establishments, known customs, the practice and decisions of courts, as well as positive statutes, acquire the authority of laws; and every proceeding is conducted by some fixed and determinate rule. The best and most effectual precautions are taken for the impartial application of rules to particular cases; and it is remarkable, that, in the two examples we have mentioned, a surprising coincidence is found in the singular methods of their jurisdiction. The people in both reserved in a manner the office of judgement to themselves, and brought the decision of civil rights, or of criminal questions, to the tribunal of peers, who, in judging of their fellow-citizens, prescribed a condition of life for themselves.
It is not in mere laws, after all, that we are to look for the securities to justice, but in the powers by which those laws have been obtained, and without whose constant support they must fall to disuse. Statutes serve to record the rights of a people, and speak the intention of parties to defend what the letter of the law has expressed: but without the vigour to maintain what is acknowledged as a right, the mere record, or the feeble intention, is of little avail.
A populace roused by oppression, or an order of men possessed of a temporary advantage, have obtained many charters, concessions, and stipulations, in favour of their claims; but where no adequate preparation was made to preserve them, the written articles were often forgotten, together with the occasion on which they were framed.
The history of England, and of every free country, abounds with the example of statutes enacted when the people or their representatives assembled, but never executed when the crown or the executive was left to itself. The most equitable laws on paper are consistent with the utmost despotism in administration, Even the form of trial by juries in England had its authority in law, while the proceedings of courts were arbitrary and oppressive.
We must admire, as the key-stone of civil liberty, the statute which forces the secrets of every prison to be revealed, the cause of every commitment to be declared, and the person of the accused to be produced, that he may claim his enlargement, or his trial, within a limited time. No wiser form was ever opposed to the abuses of power. But it requires a fabric no less than the whole political constitution of Great Britain, a spirit no less than the refractory and turbulent zeal of this fortunate people, to secure its effects.
If even the safety of the person, and the tenure of property, which may be so well defined in the words of a statute, depend, for their preservation, on the vigour and jealousy of a free people, and on the degree of consideration which every order of the state maintains for itself; it is still more evident, that what we have called the political freedom, or the right of the individual to act in his station for himself and the public, cannot be made to rest on any other foundation. The estate may be saved, and the person released, by the forms of a civil procedure; but the rights of the mind cannot be sustained by any other force but its own.
We have already observed, that art is natural to man; and that the skill he acquires after many ages of practice, is only the improvement of a talent he possessed at the first. Vitruvius finds the rudiments of architecture in the form of a Scythian cottage. The armourer may find the first productions of his calling in the sling and the bow; and the ship-wright of his in the canoe of the savage. Even the historian and the poet may find the original essays of their arts in the tale, and the song, which celebrate the wars, the loves, and the adventures of men in their rudest condition.
Destined to cultivate his own nature, or to mend his situation, man finds a continued subject of attention, ingenuity, and labour. Even where he does not propose any personal improvement, his faculties are strengthened by those very exercises in which he seems to forget himself: his reason and his affections are thus profitably engaged in the affairs of society; his invention and his skill are exercised in procuring his accommodations and his food; his particular pursuits are prescribed to him by circumstances of the age and of the country in which he lives: in one situation he is occupied with wars and political deliberations; in another, with the care of his interest, of his personal ease, or conveniency, He suits his means to the ends he has in view; and, by multiplying contrivances, proceeds, by degrees, to the perfection of his arts. In every step of his progress, if his skill be increased, his desire must likewise have time to extend: and it would be as vain to suggest a contrivance of which he slighted the use, as it would be to tell him of blessings which he could not command.
Ages are generally supposed to have borrowed from those who went before them, and nations to have derived their portion of learning or of art from abroad. The Romans are thought to have learned from the Greeks, and the moderns of Europe from both. In this imagination we frequently proceed so far as to admit of nothing original in the practice or manners of any people. The Greek was a copy of the Egyptian, and even the Egyptian was an imitator, though we have lost sight of the model on which he was formed.
It is known, that men improve by example and intercourse; but in the case of nations, whose members excite and direct each other, why seek from abroad the origin of arts, of which every society, having the principles in itself, only requires a favourable occasion to bring them to light? When such occasion presents itself to any people, they generally seize it; and while it continues, they improve the inventions to which it gave rise among themselves, or they willingly copy from others: but they never employ their own invention, nor look abroad, for instruction on subjects that do not lie in the way of their common pursuits; they never adopt a refinement of which they have not discovered the use.
Inventions, we frequently observe, are accidental; but it is probable, that an accident which escapes the artist in one age, may be seized by one who succeeds him, and who is better apprised of its use. Where circumstances are favourable, and where a people is intent on the objects of any art, every invention is preserved, by being brought into general practice; every model is studied, and every accident is turned to account. If nations actually borrow from their neighbours, they probably borrow only what they are nearly in a condition to have invented themselves.
Any singular practice of one country, therefore, is seldom transferred to another, till the way be prepared by the introduction of similar circumstances. Hence our frequent complaints of the dullness or obstinacy of mankind, and of the dilatory communication of arts, from one place to another. While the Romans adopted the arts of Greece, the Thracians and Illyrians continued to behold them with indifference. Those arts were, during one period, confined to the Greek colonies, and during another, to the Roman. Even where they were spread by a visible intercourse, they were still received by independent nations with the slowness of invention. They made a progress not more rapid at Rome than they had done at Athens; and they passed to the extremities of the Roman empire, only in company with new colonies, and joined to Italian policy.
The modern race, who came abroad to the possession of cultivated provinces, retained the arts they had practised at home: the new master hunted the boar, or pastured his herds, where he might have raised a plentiful harvest: he built a cottage in the view of a palace: he buried, in one common ruin, the edifices, sculptures, paintings, and libraries, of the former inhabitant: he made a settlement upon a plan of his own, and opened anew the source of inventions, without perceiving from a distance to what length their progress might lead his posterity. The cottage of the present race, like that of the former, by degrees enlarged its dimensions; public buildings acquired a magnificence in a new taste. Even this taste came, in a course of ages, to be exploded, and the people of Europe recurred to the models which their fathers destroyed, and wept over the ruins which they could not restore.
The literary remains of antiquity were studied and imitated, after the original genius of modern nations had broke forth: the rude efforts of poetry in Italy and Provence, resembled those of the Greeks and the ancient Romans. How far the merit of our works might, without the aid of their models, have risen by successive improvements, or whether we have gained more by imitation than we have lost by quitting our native system of thinking, and our vein of fable, must be left to conjecture. We are certainly indebted to them for the materials, as well as the form, of many of our compositions; and without their example, the strain of our literature, together with that of our manners and policy, would have been different from what they at present are. This much however may be said with assurance, that although the Roman and the modern literature savour alike of the Greek original, yet mankind in either instance would not have drank of this fountain, unless they had been hastening to open springs of their own.
Sentiment and fancy, the use of the hand or the head, are not inventions of particular men; and the flourishing of arts that depend on them, are, in the case of any people, a proof rather of political felicity at home, than of any instruction received from abroad, or of any natural superiority in point of industry or talents, When the attentions of men are turned toward particular subjects, when the acquisitions of one age are left entire to the next, when every individual is protected in his place, and left to pursue the suggestion of his wants, devices accumulate; and it is difficult to find the original of any art. The steps which lead to perfection are many; and we are at a loss on whom to bestow the greatest share of our praise; on the first or on the last who may have bore a part in the progress.
If we may rely on the general observations contained in the last section, the literary, as well as mechanical arts, being a natural produce of the human mind, will rise spontaneously where-ever men are happily placed; and in certain nations it is not more necessary to look abroad for the origin of literature, than it is for the suggestion of any of the pleasures or exercises in which mankind, under a state of prosperity and freedom, are sufficiently inclined to indulge themselves.
We are apt to consider arts as foreign and adventitious to the nature of man: but there is no art that did not find its occasion in human life, and that was not, in some one or other of the situations in which our species is found, suggested as a means for the attainment of some useful end. The mechanic and commercial arts took their rise from the love of property, and were encouraged by the prospects of safety and of gain: the literary and liberal arts took their rise from the understanding, the fancy, and the heart. They are mere exercises of the mind in search of its peculiar pleasures and occupations; and are promoted by circumstances that suffer the mind to enjoy itself.
Men are equally engaged by the past, the present, and the future, and are prepared for every occupation that gives scope to their powers. Productions therefore, whether of narration, fiction, or reasoning, that tend to employ the imagination, or move the heart, continue for ages a subject of attention, and a source of delight. The memory of human transactions being preserved in tradition or writing, is the natural gratification of a passion that consists of curiosity, admiration, and the love of amusement.
Before many books are written, and before science is greatly advanced, the productions of mere genius are sometimes complete: the performer requires not the aid of learning where his description or story relates to near and contiguous objects; where it relates to the conduct and characters of men with whom he himself has acted, and in whose occupations and fortunes he himself has borne a part.
With this advantage, the poet is the first to offer the fruits of his genius, and to lead in the career of those arts by which the mind is destined to exhibit its imaginations, and to express its passions. Every tribe of barbarians have their passionate or historic rhymes, which contain the superstition, the enthusiasm, and the admiration of glory, with which the breasts of men, in the earliest state of society, are possessed. They delight in verse-compositions, either because the cadence of numbers is natural to the language of sentiment, or because, not having the advantage of writing, they are obliged to bring the ear in aid of the memory, in order to facilitate the repetition, and insure the preservation of their works.
When we attend to the language which savages employ on any solemn occasion, it appears that man is a poet by nature. Whether at first obliged by the mere defects of his tongue, and the scantiness of proper expressions, or seduced by a pleasure of the fancy in stating the analogy of its objects, he clothes every conception in image and metaphor. 'We have planted the tree of peace,' says an American orator; 'we have buried the axe under its roots: we will henceforth repose under its shade; we will join to brighten the chain that binds our nations together.' Such are the collections of metaphor which those nations employ in their public harangues. They have likewise already adopted those lively figures, and that daring freedom of language, which the learned have afterwards found so well fitted to express the rapid transitions of the imagination, and the ardours of a passionate mind.
If we are required to explain, how men could be poets, or orators, before they were aided by the learning of the scholar and the critic? we may inquire, in our turn, how bodies could fall by their weight, before the laws of gravitation were recorded in books? Mind, as well as body, has laws, which are exemplified in the practice of men, and which the critic collects only after the example has shewn what they are.
Occasioned, probably, by the physical connection we have mentioned, between the emotions of a heated imagination, and the impressions received from music and pathetic sounds, every tale among rude nations is repeated in verse, and is made to take the form of a song The early history of all nations is uniform in this particular. Priests, statesmen, and philosophers, in the first ages of Greece, delivered their instructions in poetry, and mixed with the dealers in music and heroic fable.
It is not so surprising, however, that poetry should be the first species of composition in every nation, as it is, that a style apparently so difficult, and so far removed from ordinary use, should be almost as universally the first to attain its maturity. The most admired of all poets lived beyond the reach of history, almost of tradition. The artless song of the savage, the heroic legend of the bard, have sometimes a magnificent beauty, which no change of language can improve, and no refinements of the critic reform.
Under the supposed disadvantage of a limited knowledge, and a rude apprehension, the simple poet has impressions that more than compensate the defects of his skill. The best subjects of poetry, the characters of the violent and the brave, the generous and the intrepid, great dangers, trials of fortitude and fidelity, are exhibited within his view, or are delivered in traditions which animate like truth, because they are equally believed. He is not engaged in recalling, like Virgil or Tasso, the sentiments or scenery of an age remote from his own: he needs not be told by the critic,22 to recollect what another would have thought, or in what manner another would have expressed his conception. The simple passions, friendship, resentment, and love, are the movements of his own mind, and he has no occasion to copy. Simple and vehement in his conceptions and feelings, he knows no diversity of thought, or of style, to mislead or to exercise his judgement. He delivers the emotions of the heart, in words suggested by the heart: for he knows no other. And hence it is, that while we admire the judgement and invention of Virgil, and of other later poets, these terms appear misapplied to Homer. Though intelligent, as well as sublime, in his conceptions, we cannot anticipate the lights of his understanding, nor the movements of his heart: he appears to speak from inspiration, not from invention; and to be guided in the choice of his thoughts and expressions by a supernatural instinct, not by reflection.
The language of early ages, is in one respect, simple and confined; in another, it is varied and free: it allows liberties, which, to the poet of after times, are denied.
In rude ages men are not separated by distinctions of rank or profession. They live in one manner, and speak one dialect. The bard is not to chuse his expression among the singular accents of different conditions. He has not to guard his language from the peculiar errors of the mechanic, the peasant, the scholar, or the courtier, in order to find that elegant propriety, and just elevation, which is free from the vulgar of one class, the pedantic of the second, or the flippant of the third. The name of every object, and of every sentiment, is fixed; and if his conception has the dignity of nature, his expression will have a purity which does not depend on his choice.
With this apparent confinement in the choice of his words, he is at liberty to break through the ordinary modes of construction; and in the form of a language not established by rules, may find for himself a cadence agreeable to the tone of his mind. The liberty he takes, while his meaning is striking, and his language is raised, appears an improvement, not a trespass on grammar. He delivers a style to the ages that follow, and becomes a model from which his posterity judge.
But whatever may be the early disposition of mankind to poetry, or the advantage they possess in cultivating this species of literature; whether the early maturity of poetical compositions arise from their being the first studied, or from their having a charm to engage persons of the liveliest genius, who are best qualified to improve the eloquence of their native tongue; it is a remarkable fact, that, not only in countries where every vein of composition was original, and was opened in the order of natural succession; but even at Rome, and in modern Europe, where the learned began early to practise on foreign models, we have poets of every nation, who are perused with pleasure, while the prose writers of the same ages are neglected.
As Sophocles and Euripides preceded the historians and moralists of Greece, not only Naevius and Ennius, who wrote the Roman history in verse, but Lucilius, Plautus, Terence, and we may add Lucretius, were prior to Cicero, Sallust, or Caesar. Dante and Petrarch went before any good prose writer in Italy; Corneille and Racine brought on the fine age of prose compositions in France; and we had in England, not only Chaucer and Spenser, but Shakespear and Milton, while our attempts in history or science were yet in their infancy; and deserve our attention, only for the sake of the matter they treat.
Hillanicus, who is reckoned among the first prose writers in Greece, and who immediately preceded, or was the contemporary of Herodotus, set out with declaring his intention to remove from history the wild representations, and extravagant fictions, with which it had been disgraced by the poets.23 The want of records or authorities, relating to any distant transactions, may have hindered him, as it did his immediate successor, from giving truth all the advantage it might have reaped from this transition to prose. There are, however, ages in the progress of society, when such a proposition must be favourably received. When men become occupied on the subjects of policy, or commercial arts, they wish to be informed and instructed, as well as moved. They are interested by what was real in past transactions. They build on this foundation, the reflections and reasonings they apply to present affairs, and wish to receive information on the subject of different pursuits, and of projects in which they begin to be engaged. The manners of men, the practice of ordinary life, and the form of society, furnish their subjects to the moral and political writer. Mere ingenuity, justness of sentiment, and correct representation, though conveyed in ordinary language, are understood to constitute literary merit, and by applying to reason more than to the imagination and passions, meet with a reception that is due to the instruction they bring.
The talents of men come to be employed in a variety of affairs, and their inquiries directed to different subjects. Knowledge is important in every department of civil society, and requisite to the practice of every art. The science of nature, morals, politics, and history, find their several admirers; and even poetry itself, which retains its former station in the region of warm imagination and enthusiastic passion, appears in a growing variety of forms.
Matters have proceeded so far, without the aid of foreign examples, or the direction of schools. The cart of Thespis was changed into a theatre, not to gratify the learned, but to please the Athenian populace: and the prize of poetical merit was decided by this populace equally before and after the invention of rules. The Greeks were unacquainted with every language but their own; and if they became learned, it was only by studying what they themselves had produced: the childish mythology, which they are said to have copied from Asia, was equally of little avail in promoting their love of arts, or their success in the practice of them.
When the historian is struck with the events he has witnessed, or heard; when he is excited to relate them by his reflections or his passions; when the statesman, who is required to speak in public, is obliged to prepare for every remarkable appearance in studied harangues; when conversation becomes extensive and refined; and when the social feelings and reflections of men are committed to writing, a system of learning may arise from the bustle of an active life. Society itself is the school, and its lessons are delivered in the practice of real affairs. An author writes from observations he has made on his subject, not from the suggestion of books; and every production carries the mark of his character as a man, not of his mere proficiency as a student or scholar. It may be made a question, whether the trouble of seeking for distant models, and of wading for instruction, through dark allusions and languages unknown, might not have quenched his fire, and rendered him a writer of a very inferior class.
If society may thus be considered as a school for letters, it is probable that its lessons are varied in every separate state, and in every age. For a certain period, the severe applications of the Roman people to policy and war suppressed the literary arts, and appear to have stifled the genius even of the historian and the poet. The institutions of Sparta gave a professed contempt for whatever was not connected with the practical virtues of a vigorous and resolute spirit: the charms of imagination, and the parade of language, were by this people classed with the arts of the cook and the perfumer: their songs in praise of fortitude are mentioned by some writers; and collections of their witty saying and repartees are still preserved: they indicate the virtues and the abilities of an active people, not their proficiency in science or literary taste. Possessed of what was essential to happiness in the virtues of the heart, they had a discernment of its value, unimbarrassed by the numberless objects on which mankind in general are so much at a loss to adjust their esteem: fixed in their own apprehension, they turned a sharp edge on the follies of mankind. 'When will you begin to practise it?' was the question of a Spartan to a person who, in an advanced age of life, was still occupied with questions on the nature of virtue.
While this people confined their studies to one question, How to improve and to preserve the courage and the disinterested affections of the human heart? their rivals the Athenians gave a scope to refinement on every object of reflection or passion. By the rewards, either of profit or of reputation, which they bestowed on every effort of ingenuity employed in ministering to the pleasure, the decoration, or the conveniency of life; by the variety of conditions in which their citizens were placed; by their inequalities of fortune, and their several pursuits in war, politics, commerce, and lucrative arts, they awakened whatever was either good or bad in the natural dispositions of men. Every road to eminence was opened: eloquence, fortitude, military skill, envy, detraction, faction, and treason, even the muse herself, was courted to bestow importance among a busy, acute, and turbulent people.
From this example, we may safely conclude, that although business is sometimes a rival to study, retirement and leisure are not the principal requisites to the improvement, perhaps not even to the exercise, of literary talents. The most striking exertions of imagination and sentiment have a reference to mankind: they are excited by the presence and intercourse of men: they have most vigour when actuated in the mind by the operation of its principal springs, by the emulations, the friendships, and the oppositions, which subsist among a forward and aspiring people. Amidst the great occasions which put a free, and even a licentious, society in motion, its members become capable of every exertion; and the same scenes which gave employment to Themistocles and Thrasybulus, inspired, by contagion, the genius of Sophocles and Plato. The petulant and the ingenuous find an equal scope to their talents; and literary monuments become the repositories of envy and folly, as well as of wisdom and virtue.
Greece, divided into many little states, and agitated, beyond any spot on the globe, by domestic contentions and foreign wars, set the example in every species of literature. The fire was communicated to Rome; not when the state ceased to be warlike, and had discontinued her political agitations, but when she mixed the love of refinement and of pleasure with her national pursuits, and indulged an inclination to study in the midst of ferments, occasioned by the wars and pretensions of opposite factions. It was revived in modern Europe among the turbulent states of Italy, and spread to the North, together with the spirit which shook the fabric of the Gothic policy. it rose while men were divided into parties, under civil or religious denominations, and when they were at variance on subjects held the most important and sacred.
We may be satisfied, from the example of many ages, that liberal endowments bestowed on learned societies, and the leisure with which they were furnished for study, are not the likeliest means to excite the exertions of genius: even science itself, the supposed offspring of leisure, pined in the shade of monastic retirement. Men at a distance from the objects of useful knowledge, untouched by the motives that animate an active and a vigorous mind, could produce only the jargon of a technical language, and accumulate the impertinence of academical forms.
To speak or to write justly from an observation of nature, it is necessary to have felt the sentiments of nature. He who is penetrating and ardent in the conduct of life, will probably exert a proportional force and ingenuity in the exercise of his literary talents: and although writing may become a trade, and require all the application and study which are bestowed on any other calling; yet the principal requisites in this calling are, the spirit and sensibility of a vigorous mind.
In one period, the school may take its light and direction from active life; in another, it is true, the remains of an active spirit are greatly supported by literary monuments, and by the history of transactions that preserve the examples and the experience of former and of better times. But in whatever manner men are formed for great efforts of elocution or conduct, it appears the most glaring of all other deceptions, to look for the accomplishments of a human character in the mere attainments of speculation, whilst we neglect the qualities of fortitude and public affection, which are so necessary to render our knowledge an article of happiness or of use.
1. See Russian Atlas.
2. The Tchutzi.
3. Notes to the Genealogical History of the Tartars.
6. The Dutch sailors who were employed in the siege of Malaco, tore or burnt the sail-cloth which was given them to make tents, that they might not have the trouble of making or pitching them. Voy. de Matelief.
7. Compare the state of Hungary with that of Holland.
8. De Retz Memoirs.
9. Part I, sect. 10.
10. See Dr Robertson's History of Scotland, b. 1.
11. Collection of Dutch Voyages.
15. Thucydides, book 1.
17. In Britain, by the suspension of Habeas corpus.
18. D'Arvieux's History of the Arabs.
19. Plutarch in the life of Solon. Livy.
20. See part 2, sect. 2.
22. See Longinus.
23. Quoted by Demetrius Phalerius.
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