Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

none more than this. A shining merit is ever hated or suspected in a popular assembly, as well as in a court; and all services done in the state are looked upon as dangerous to the rulers, whether sultans or senators. The Ostracism at Athens was built upon this principle. The giddy people, whom we have now under consideration, being elated with some flashes of success which they owed to nothing less than any merit of their own, began to tyrannize over their equals, who had associated with them for their common defence. With their prudence they renounced all appearance of justice. They entered into wars rashly and wantonly. If they were unsuccessful, instead of growing wiser by their misfortune, they threw the whole blame of their own miscon. duct on the ministers who had advised, and the generals who had conducted, those wars; until by degrees they had cut off al who could serve them in their councils or their battles. If at any time these wars had an happy issue, it was no less difficult to deal with them on account of their pride and insolence. Furious in their adversity, tyrannical in their successes, a commander had more trouble to concert his defence before the people, than to plan the operations of the campaign. It was not uncommon for a general, under the horrid despotism of the Roman emperors, to be ill received in proportion to the greatness of his services. Agricola is a strong instance of this. No man had done greater things, nor with more honest ambition. Yet on his return to court, he was obliged to enter Rome with all the secrecy of a criminal. He went to the palace, not like a victorious commander who had merited and might demand the greatest rewards, but like an offender who had come to supplicate a pardon for his crimes. His reception was answerable: “Ecceptusque brevi osculo et nullo sermone, turbæ servientium immixtus est." Yet in that worst season of this worst of monarchical' tyrannies, modesty, discretion, and coolness of temper, formed some kind of security even for the highest merit. But at Athens, the nicest and best studied behaviour was not a sufficient guard for a man of great capacity. Some of their bravest commanders were obliged to fly their country, some to enter into the service of its enemies, rather than abide a popular deter

Sciant quibus moris illicita mirari, posse etiam sub malis principibus magnos viros, &c. See 42, to the end of it.

а

a

a

niination on their conduct, lest, as one of them said, their giddiness might make the people condemn where they meant to acquit; to throw in a black bean even when they intended a white one.

The Athenians made a very rapid progress to the most enormous excesses. The people, under no restraint, soon grew dissolute, luxurious, and idle. They renounced all labour, and began to subsist themselves from the public revenues. They lost all concern for their common honour or safety, and could bear no advice that tended to reform them. At this time truth became offensive to those lords, the people, and most highly dangerous to the speaker. The orators no longer ascended the rostrum, but to corrupt them further with the most fulsome adulation. These orators were all bribed by foreign princes on the one side or the other. And besides its own parties, in this city there were parties, and avowed ones too, for the Persians, Spartans, and Macedonians, supported each of them by one or more demagogues pensioned and bribed to this iniquitous service. The people, forgetful of all virtue and public spirit, and intoxicated with the flatteries of their orators, (these courtiers of republics, and endowed with the distinguishing characteristics of all other courtiers,) this people, I say, at last arrived at that pitch of madness, that they coolly and deliberately, by an express law, made it capable for any man to propose an application of the immense sums squandered in public shows, even to the most necessary purposes of the state. When you see the people of this republic banishing and murdering their best and ablest citizens, dissipating the public treasure with the most senseless extravagance, and spending their whole time, as spectators or actors, in playing, fiddling, dancing, and singing, does it not, my Lord, strike your imagination with the image of a sort of complex Nero ? And does it not strike you with the greater horror, when you observe, not one man only, but a whole city, grown drunk with pride and power, running with a rage of folly into the same mean and senseless debauchery and extravagance ? But if this people resembled Nero in their extravagance, much more did they resemble and even exceed him in cruelty and injustice. In the time of Pericles, one of the most celebrated times in the history of that commonwealth, a zing of Egypt sent them a donation of corn. This they were mean enough to accept. and had the Egyptian prince intended the ruin of this city of wicked bedlamites, he could not have taken a more effectual method to do it, than by such an insnaring largess. The distribution of this bounty caused a quarrel; the majority set on foot an inquiry into the title of the citizens ; and upon a vain pretence of illegitimacy, newly and occasionally set up, they deprived of their share of the royal do. nation no less than five thousand of their own body. They went further; they disfranchised them; and having once begun with an act of injustice, they could set no bounds to

t. Not content with cutting them off from the rights of citizens, they plundered these unfortunate wretches of all their substance; and, to crown this master-piece of violence and tyranny, they actually sold every man of the five thousand for slaves in the public market. Observe, my Lord, that the five thousand we here speak of were cut off from a body of no more than nineteen thousand; for the entire number of citizens was no greater at that time. Could the tyrant who wished the Roman people but one neck; could the tyrant Caligula himself have done, nay, he could scarcely wish for, a greater mischief, than to have cut off, at one stroke, a fourth of his people ? Or has the cruelty of that series of sanguine tyrants, the Cæsars, ever presented such a piece of flagrant and extensive wickedness? The whole history of this celebrated republic is but one tissue of rashness, folly, ingratitude, injustice, tumult, violence, and tyranny, and in deed of every species of wickedness that can well be imao gined. This was a city of wise men, in which a minister could not exercise his functions; a warlike people, amongst whom a general did not dare either to gain or lose a battle; a learned

nation, in which a philosopher could not venture on a free inquiry. This was the city which banished Themis tocles, starved Aristides, forced into exile Miltiades, drove out Anaxagoras, and poisoned Socrates. This was a city which changed the form of its government with the moon; eternal conspiracies, revolutions daily, nothing fixed and established. A republic, as an ancient philosopher has observed, is no one species of government, but a magazine of every species; here

every sort of it, and that in the worst form. As there is a perpetual change, one rising and the other falling, you have all the violence and wicked policy by which a beginning power must always acquire its strength, and all the weakness by which falling states are brought to a complete destruction.

you find

Rome has a more venerable aspect than Athens; and she conducted her affairs, so far as related to the ruin and oppression of the greatest part of the world, with greater wisdom and more uniformity. But the domestic economy of these two states was nearly or altogether the same. An internal dissension constantly tore to pieces the bowels of the Roman commonwealth. You find the same confusion, the same factions, which subsisted at Athens, the same tumults, the same revolutions, and in fine, the same slavery; if perhaps their former condition did not deserve that name altogether as well. All other republics were of the same character. Florence was a transcript of Athens. And the modern republics, as they approach more or less to the democratic form, partake more or less of the nature of those which I have described.

We are now at the close of our review of the three sim. ple forms of artificial society; and we have shown them, however they may differ in name, or in some slight circumstances, to be all alike in effect; in effect, to be all tyrannies. But suppose we were inclined to make the most ample concessions ; let us concede Athens, Rome, Carthage, and two or three more of the ancient, and as many of the modern, commonwealths, to have been, or to be, free and happy, and to owe their freedom and happiness to their political constitution. Yet, allowing all this, what defence does this make for artificial society in general, that these inconsiderable spots of the globe have for some short space of time stood as exceptions to a charge so general ? But when we call these governments free, or concede that their citizens were happier than those which lived under different forms, it is merely ex abundanti. For we should be greatly mistaken, if we really thought that the majority of the people which filled these cities, enjoyed even that nominal positical freedom of which I have spoken so much already. In reality, they had no part of it. In Athens there were usually from ten to thirty thousand freemen: this was the utmost. But the slaves usually amounted to four hundred thousand,

and sometimes to a great many more. The freemen of Sparta and Rome were not more numerous in proportion to those whom they held in a slavery even more terrible than the Athenian. Therefore state the matter fairly : the free states never formed, though they were taken altogether, the thousandth part of the habitable globe; the freemen in these states were never the twentieth part of the people, and the time they subsisted is scarce anything in that immense ocean of duration in which time and slavery are so nearly commensurate. Therefore call these free states, or popular governments, or what you please; when we consider the majority of their inhabitants, and regard the natural rights of mankind, they must appear, in reality and truth, no better than pitiful and oppressive oligarchies.

After so fair an examen, wherein nothing has been exaggerated; no fact produced which cannot be proved, and none which has been produced in any wise forced or strained, .while thousands have, for brevity, been omitted; after so candid a discussion in all respects; what slave so passive, what bigot so blind, what enthusiast so headlong, what po. litician so hardened, as to stand up in defence of a system calculated for a curse to mankind ? a curse under which they smart and groan to this hour, without thoroughly knowing the nature of the disease, and wanting understanding or courage to supply the remedy.

I need not excuse myself to your Lordship, nor, I think, to any

for the zeal I have shown in this cause; for it is an honest zeal, and in a good cause. I have defended natural religion against a confederacy of atheists and divines. I now plead for natural society against politicians, and for natural reason against all three. When the world is in a fitter temper than it is at present to hear truth, or when I shall be more indifferent about its temper, my thoughts may become more public. In the mean time, let them repose in my own bosom, and in the bosoms of such men as are fit to be initiated in the sober mysteries of truth and reason. My antagonists have already done as much as I could desire. Parties in religion and politics make sufficient discoveries concerning each other, to give a sober man a proper caution against them all. The monarchic, and aristocratical, and popular partisans have been jointly lay

honest man,

« PredošláPokračovať »