An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part III

An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part III

Part Third.

Of the History of Policy and Arts

Section I

Of the Influences of Climate and Situation

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
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
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
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
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 nations(2*) 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
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
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
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
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.

Section II

The History of Subordination

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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Section III

Of National Objects in general, and of Establishments and
Manners, relating to them.

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
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
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.

Section IV

Of Population and Wealth

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
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
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.

Section V

Of National Defence and Conquest

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
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
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

Section VI

Of Civil Liberty

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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Section VII.

Of the History of Arts

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
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.

Section VIII

Of the History of Literature

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
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.

4. D’Arvieux.

5. Charlevoix.

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.

12. Strahlenberg.

13. Dampier.

14. Xenophon.

15. Thucydides, book 1.

16. Polybius.

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.

21. Aristotle.

22. See Longinus.

23. Quoted by Demetrius Phalerius.


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