An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part IV

An Essay on the History of Civil Society – Part IV

Part Fourth.

Of Consequences that result from the Advancement of Civil and
Commercial Arts

Section I.

Of the Separation of Arts and Professions.

It is evident, that, however urged by a sense of necessity,
and a desire of convenience, or favoured by any advantages of
situation and policy, a people can make no great progress in
cultivating the arts of life, until they have separated, and
committed to different persons, the several tasks, which require
a peculiar skill and attention. The savage, or the barbarian, who
must build and plant, and fabricate for himself, prefers, in the
interval of great alarms and fatigues, the enjoyments of sloth to
the improvement of his fortune: he is, perhaps, by the diversity
of his wants, discouraged from industry; or, by his divided
attention, prevented from acquiring skill in the management of
any particular subject.
The enjoyment of peace, however, and the prospect of being
able to exchange one commodity for another, turns, by degrees,
the hunter and the warrior into a tradesman and a merchant. The
accidents which distribute the means of subsistence unequally,
inclination, and favourable opportunities, assign the different
occupations of men; and a sense of utility leads them, without
end, to subdivide their professions.
The artist finds, that the more he can confine his attention
to a particular part of any work, his productions are the more
perfect, and grow under his hands in the greater quantities.
Every undertaker in manufacture finds, that the more he can
subdivide the tasks of his workmen, and the more hands he can
employ on separate articles, the more are his expences
diminished, and his profits increased. The consumer too requires,
in every kind of commodity, a workmanship more perfect than hands
employed on a variety of subjects can produce; and the progress
of commerce is but a continued subdivision of the mechanical
Every craft may ingross the whole of a man’s attention, and
has a mystery which must be studied or learned by a regular
apprenticeship. Nations of tradesmen come to consist of members
who, beyond their own particular trade, are ignorant of all human
affairs, and who may contribute to the preservation and
enlargement of their commonwealth, without making its interest an
object of their regard or attention. Every individual is
distinguished by his calling, and has a place to which he is
fitted. The savage, who knows no distinction but that of his
merit, of his sex, or of his species, and to whom his community
is the sovereign object of affection, is astonished to find, that
in a scene of this nature, his being a man does not qualify him
for any station whatever: he flies to the woods with amazement,
distaste, and aversion.
By the separation of arts and professions, the sources of
wealth are laid open; every species of material is wrought up to
the greatest perfection, and every commodity is produced in the
greatest abundance. The state may estimate its profits and its
revenues by the number of its people. It may procure, by its
treasure, that national consideration and power, which the savage
maintains at the expence of his blood.
The advantage gained in the inferior branches of manufacture
by the separation of their parts, seem to be equalled by those
which arise from a similar device in the higher departments of
policy and war. The soldier is relieved from every care but that
of his service; statesmen divide the business of civil government
into shares; and the servants of the public, in every office,
without being skilful in the affairs of state, may succeed, by
observing forms which are already established on the experience
of others. They are made, like the parts of an engine, to concur
to a purpose, without any concert of their own: and, equally
blind with the trader to any general combination, they unite with
him, in furnishing to the state its resources, its conduct, and
its force.
The artifices of the beaver, the ant, and the bee, are
ascribed to the wisdom of nature. Those of polished nations are
ascribed to themselves, and are supposed to indicate a capacity
superior to that of rude minds. But the establishments of men,
like those of every animal, are suggested by nature, and are the
result of instinct, directed by the variety of situations in
which mankind are placed. Those establishments arose from
successive improvements that were made, without any sense of
their general effect; and they bring human affairs to a state of
complication, which the greatest reach of capacity with which
human nature was ever adorned, could not have projected; nor even
when the whole is carried into execution, can it be comprehended
in its full extent.
Who could anticipate, or even enumerate, the separate
occupations and professions by which the members of any
commercial state are distinguished; the variety of devices which
are practised in separate cells, and which the artist, attentive
to his own affair, has invented, to abridge or to facilitate his
separate task? In coming to this mighty end, every generation,
compared to its predecessors, may have appeared to be ingenious;
compared to its followers, may have appeared to be dull: and
human ingenuity, whatever heights it may have gained in a
succession of ages, continues to move with an equal pace, and to
creep in making the last as well as the first step of commercial
or civil improvement.
It may even be doubted, whether the measure of national
capacity increases with the advancement of arts. Many mechanical
arts, indeed, require no capacity; they succeed best under a
total suppression of sentiment and reason; and ignorance is the
mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and
fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand, or the
foot, is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly,
prosper most, where the mind is least consulted, and where the
workshop may, without any great effort of imagination, be
considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.
The forest has been felled by the savage without the use of
the axe, and weights have been raised without the aid of the
mechanical powers. The merit of the inventor, in every branch,
probably deserves a preference to that of the performer; and he
who invented a tool, or could work without its assistance,
deserved the praise of ingenuity in a much higher degree than the
mere artist, who, by its assistance, produced a superior work.
But if many parts in the practice of every art, and in the
detail of every department, require no abilities, or actually
tend to contract and to limit the views of the mind, there are
others which lead to general reflections, and to enlargement of
thought. Even in manufacture, the genius of the master, perhaps,
is cultivated, while that of the inferior workman lies waste. The
statesman may have a wide comprehension of human affairs, while
the tools he employs are ignorant of the system in which they are
themselves combined. The general officer may be a great
proficient in the knowledge of war, while the soldier is confined
to a few motions of the hand and the foot. The former may have
gained, what the latter has lost; and being occupied in the
conduct of disciplined armies, may practise on a larger scale,
all the arts of preservation, of deception, and of stratagem,
which the savage exerts in leading a small party, or merely in
defending himself.
The practitioner of every art and profession may afford
matter of general speculation to the man of science; and thinking
itself, in this age of separations, may become a peculiar craft.
In the bustle of civil pursuits and occupations, men appear in a
variety of lights, and suggest matter of inquiry and fancy, by
which conversation is enlivened, and greatly enlarged. The
productions of ingenuity are brought to the market; and men are
willing to pay for whatever has a tendency to inform or amuse. By
this means the idle, as well as the busy, contribute to forward
the progress of arts, and bestow on polished nations that air of
superior ingenuity, under which they appear to have gained the
ends that were pursued by the savage in his forest, knowledge,
order, and wealth.

Section II.

Of the Subordination consequent to the Separation of Arts and

There is one ground of subordination in the difference of
natural talents and dispositions; a second in the unequal
division of property; and a third, not less sensible, in the
habits which are acquired by the practice of different arts.
Some employments are liberal, others mechanic. They require
different talents, and inspire different sentiments; and whether
or not this be the cause of the preference we actually give, it
is certainly reasonable to form our opinion of the rank that is
due to men of certain professions and stations, from the
influence of their manner of life in cultivating the powers of
the mind, or in preserving the sentiments of the heart.
There is an elevation natural to man, by which he would be
thought, in his rudest state, however urged by necessity, to rise
above the consideration of mere subsistence, and the regards of
interest: He would appear to act only from the heart, in its
engagements of friendship, or opposition; he would shew himself
only upon occasions of danger or difficulty, and leave ordinary
cares to the weak or the servile.
The same apprehensions, in every situation, regulate his
notions of meanness or of dignity. In that of polished society,
his desire to avoid the character of sordid, makes him conceal
his regard for what relates merely to his preservation or his
livelihood. In his estimation, the beggar, who depends upon
charity; the labourer, who toils that he may eat; the mechanic,
whose art requires no exertion of genius, are degraded by the
object they pursue, and by the means they employ to attain it.
Professions requiring more knowledge and study; proceeding on the
exercise of fancy, and the love of perfection; leading to
applause as well as to profit, place the artist in a superior
class, and bring him nearer to that station in which men are
supposed to be highest; because in it they are bound to no task;
because they are left to follow the disposition of the mind, and
to take that part in society, to which they are led by the
sentiments of the heart, or by the calls of the public.
This last was the station, which, in the distinction betwixt
freemen and slaves, the citizens of every ancient republic strove
to gain, and to maintain for themselves. Women, or slaves, in the
earliest ages, had been set apart for the purposes of domestic
care, or bodily labour; and in the progress of lucrative arts,
the latter were bred to mechanical professions, and were even
intrusted with merchandise for the benefit of their masters.
Freemen would be understood to have no object beside those of
politics and war. In this manner, the honours of one half of the
species were sacrificed to those of the other; as stones from the
same quarry are buried in the foundation, to sustain the blocks
which happen to be hewn for the superior parts of the pile. In
the midst of our encomiums bestowed on the Greeks and the Romans,
we are, by this circumstance, made to remember, that no human
institution is perfect.
In many of the Grecian states, the benefits arising to the
free from this cruel distinction, were not conferred equally on
all the citizens. Wealth being unequally divided, the rich alone
were exempted from labour; the poor were reduced to work for
their own subsistence: interest was a reigning passion in both,
and the possession of slaves, like that of any other lucrative
property, became an object of avarice, not an exemption from
sordid attentions. The entire effects of the institution were
obtained, or continued to be enjoyed for any considerable time,
at Sparta alone. We feel its injustice; we suffer for the helot,
under the severities and unequal treatment to which he was
exposed: but when we think only of the superior order of men in
this state; when we attend to that elevation and magnanimity of
spirit, for which danger had no terror, interest no means to
corrupt; when we consider them as friends, or as citizens, we are
apt to forget, like themselves, that slaves have a title to be
treated like men.
We look for elevation of sentiment, and liberality of mind,
among those orders of citizens, who, by their condition, and
their fortunes, are relieved from sordid cares and attentions.
This was the description of a free man at Sparta; and if the lot
of a slave among the ancients was really more wretched than that
of the indigent labourer and the mechanic among the moderns, it
may be doubted, whether the superior orders, who are in
possession of consideration and honours, do not proportionally
fail in the dignity which befits their condition. If the
pretensions to equal justice and freedom should terminate in
rendering every class equally servile and mercenary, we make a
nation of helots, and have no free citizens.
In every commercial state, notwithstanding any pretension to
equal rights, the exaltation of a few must depress the many. In
this arrangement, we think that the extreme meanness of some
classes must arise chiefly from the defect of knowledge, and of
liberal education; and we refer to such classes, as to an image
of what our species must have been in its rude and uncultivated
state. But we forget how many circumstances, especially in
populous cities, tend to corrupt the lowest orders of men.
Ignorance is the least of their failings. An admiration of wealth
unpossessed, becoming a principle of envy, or of servility; a
habit of acting perpetually with a view to profit, and under a
sense of subjection; the crimes to which they are allured, in
order to feed their debauch, or to gratify their avarice, are
examples, not of ignorance, but of corruption and baseness. If
the savage has not received our instructions, he is likewise
unacquainted with our vices. He knows no superior, and cannot be
servile; he knows no distinctions of fortune, and cannot be
envious; he acts from his talents in the highest station which
human society can offer, that of the counsellor, and the soldier
of his country. Toward forming his sentiments, he knows all that
the heart requires to be known; he can distinguish the friend
whom he loves, and the public interest which awakens his zeal.
The principal objections to democratical or popular
government, are taken from the inequalities which arise among men
in the result of commercial arts. And it must be confessed, that
popular assemblies, when composed of men whose dispositions are
sordid, and whose ordinary applications are illiberal, however
they may be intrusted with the choice of their masters and
leaders, are certainly, in their own persons, unfit to command.
How can he who has confined his views to his own subsistence or
preservation, be intrusted with the conduct of nations? Such men,
when admitted to deliberate on matters of state, bring to its
councils confusion and tumult, or servility and corruption; and
seldom suffer it to repose from ruinous factions, or the effect
of resolutions ill formed or ill conducted.
The Athenians retained their popular government under all
these defects. The mechanic was obliged, under a penalty, to
appear in the public market-place, and to hear debates on the
subjects of war, and of peace. He was tempted by pecuniary
rewards, to attend on the trial of civil and criminal causes. But
notwithstanding an exercise tending so much to cultivate their
talents, the indigent came always with minds intent upon profit,
or with the habits of an illiberal calling. Sunk under the sense
of their personal disparity and weakness, they were ready to
resign themselves entirely to the influence of some popular
leader, who flattered their passions, and wrought on their fears;
or, actuated by envy, they were ready to banish from the state
whomsoever was respectable and eminent in the superior order of
citizens: and whether from their neglect of the public at one
time, or their male-administration at another, the sovereignty
was every moment ready to drop from their hands.
The people, in this case, are, in fact, frequently governed
by one, or a few, who know how to conduct them. Pericles
possessed a species of princely authority at Athens; Crassus,
Pompey, and Caesar, either jointly or successively, possessed for
a considerable period the sovereign direction at Rome, Whether in
great or in small states, democracy is preserved with difficulty,
under the disparities of condition, and the unequal cultivation
of the mind, which attend the variety of pursuits, and
applications, that separate mankind in the advanced state of
commercial arts. In this, however, we do but plead against the
form of democracy, after the principle is removed; and see the
absurdity of pretensions to equal influence and consideration,
after the characters of men have ceased to be similar.

Section III.

Of the Manners of Polished and Commercial Nations

Mankind, when in their rude state, have a great uniformity of
manners; but when civilized, they are engaged in a variety of
pursuits; they tread on a larger field, and separate to a greater
distance. If they be guided, however, by similar dispositions,
and by like suggestions of nature, they will probably, in the
end, as well as in the beginning of their progress, continue to
agree in many particulars; and while communities admit, in their
members, that diversity of ranks and professions which we have
already described, as the consequence or the foundation of
commerce, they will resemble each other in many effects of this
distribution, and of other circumstances in which they nearly
Under every form of government, statesmen endeavour to remove
the dangers by which they are threatened from abroad, and the
disturbances which molest them at home. By this conduct, if
successful, they in a few ages gain an ascendant for their
country; establish a frontier at a distance from its capital;
they find, in the mutual desires of tranquillity, which come to
possess mankind, and in those public establishments which tend to
keep the peace of society, a respite from foreign wars, and a
relief from domestic disorders. They learn to decide every
contest without tumult, and to secure, by the authority of law,
every citizen in the possession of his personal rights.
In this condition, to which thriving nations aspire, and
which they in some measure attain, mankind having laid the basis
of safety, proceed to erect a superstructure suitable to their
views. The consequence is various in different states; even in
different orders of men of the same community; and the effect to
every individual corresponds with his station. It enables the
statesman and the soldier to settle the forms of their different
procedure; it enables the practitioner in every profession to
pursue his separate advantage; it affords the man of pleasure a
time for refinement, and the speculative, leisure for literary
conversation or study.
In this scene, matters that have little reference to the
active pursuits of mankind, are made subjects of inquiry, and the
exercise of sentiment and reason itself becomes a profession. The
songs of the bard, the harangues of the statesman and the
warrior, the tradition and the story of ancient times, are
considered as the models, or the earliest production, of so many
arts, which it becomes the object of different professions to
copy or to improve. The works of fancy, like the subjects of
natural history, are distinguished into classes and species; the
rules of every particular kind are distinctly collected; and the
library is stored, like the warehouse, with the finished
manufacture of different arts, who, with the aids of the
grammarian and the critic, aspire, each in his particular way, to
instruct the head, or to move the heart.
Every nation is a motley assemblage of different characters,
and contains, under any political form, some examples of that
variety, which the humours, tempers, and apprehensions of men, so
differently employed, are likely to furnish. Every profession has
its point of honour, and its system of manners; the merchant his
punctuality and fair dealing; the statesman his capacity and
address; the man of society, his good-breeding and wit. Every
station has a carriage, a dress, a ceremonial, by which it is
distinguished, and by which it suppresses the national character
under that of the rank, or of the individual.
This description may be applied equally to Athens and Rome,
to London and Paris. The rude or the simple observer would remark
the variety he saw in the dwellings and in the occupations of
different men, not in the aspect of different nations. He would
find, in the streets of the same city, as great a diversity, as
in the territory of a separate people. He could not pierce
through the cloud that was gathered before him, nor see how the
tradesman, mechanic, or scholar, of one country, should differ
from those of another. But the native of every province can
distinguish the foreigner; and when he himself travels, is struck
with the aspect of a strange country, the moment he passes the
bounds of his own, The air of the person, the tone of the voice,
the idiom of language, and the strain of conversation, whether
pathetic or languid, gay or severe, are no longer the same.
Many such differences may arise among polished nations, from
the effects of climate, or from sources of fashion, that are
still more unaccountable and obscure; but the principal
distinctions on which we can rest, are derived from the part a
people are obliged to act in their national capacity; from the
objects placed in their view by the state; or from the
constitution of government, which prescribing the terms of
society to its subjects, has a great influence in forming their
apprehensions and habits.
The Roman people, destined to acquire wealth by conquest, and
by the spoil of provinces; the Carthaginians, intent on the
returns of merchandise, and the produce of commercial
settlements, must have filled the streets of their several
capitals with men of a different disposition and aspect. The
Roman laid hold of his sword when he wished to be great, and the
state found her armies prepared in the dwellings of her people.
The Carthaginian retired to his counter on a similar project;
and, when the state was alarmed, or had resolved on a war, lent
of his profits to purchase an army abroad.
The member of a republic, and the subject of a monarchy, must
differ, because they have different parts assigned to them by the
forms of their country.. the one destined to live with his
equals, or, by his personal talents and character, to contend for
pre-eminence; the other, born to a determinate station, where any
pretence to equality creates a confusion, and where nought but
precedence is studied. Each, when the institutions of his country
are mature, may find in the laws a protection to his personal
rights; but those rights themselves are differently understood,
and with a different set of opinions, give rise to a different
temper of mind. The republican must act in the state, to sustain
his pretensions; he must join a party, in order to be safe; he
must form one, in order to be great. The subject of monarchy
refers to his birth for the honour he claims; he waits on a
court, to shew his importance; and holds out the ensigns of
dependence and favour, to gain him esteem with the public.
If national institutions, calculated for the preservation of
liberty, instead of calling upon the citizen to act for himself,
and to maintain his rights, should give a security, requiring, on
his part, no personal attention or effort; this seeming
perfection of government might weaken the bands of society, and,
upon maxims of independence, separate and estrange the different
ranks it was meant to reconcile. Neither the parties formed in
republics, nor the courtly assemblies which meet in monarchical
governments, could take place, where the sense of a mutual
dependence should cease to summon their members together. The
resorts for commerce might be frequented, and mere amusement
might be pursued in the croud, while the private dwelling became
a retreat for reserve, averse to the trouble arising from regards
and attentions, which it might be part of the political creed to
believe of no consequence, and a point of honour to hold in
This humour is not likely to grow either in republics or
monarchies: it belongs more properly to a mixture of both; where
the administration of justice may be better secured; where the
subject is tempted to look for equality, but where he finds only
independence in its place; and where he learns, from a spirit of
equality, to hate the very distinctions to which, on account of
their real importance, he pays a remarkable deference.
In either of the separate forms of republic or monarchy, or
in acting on the principles of either, men are obliged to court
their fellow-citizens, and to employ parts and address to improve
their fortunes, or even to be safe. They find in both a school
for discernment and penetration; but in the one, are taught to
overlook the merits of a private character, for the sake of
abilities that have weight with the public; and in the other, to
overlook great and respectable talents, for the sake of qualities
engaging or pleasant in the scene of entertainment, and private
society, They are obliged, in both, to adapt themselves with care
to the fashion and manners of their country. They find no place
for caprice or singular humours. The republican must be popular,
and the courtier polite. The first must think himself well placed
in every company; the other must chuse his resorts, and desire to
be distinguished only where the society itself is esteemed. With
his inferiors, he takes an air of protection; and suffers, in his
turn, the same air to be taken with himself. It did not, perhaps,
require in a Spartan, who feared nothing but a failure in his
duty, who loved nothing but his friend and the state, so constant
a guard on himself to support his character, as it frequently
does in the subject of a monarchy, to adjust his expence and his
fortune to the desires of his vanity, and to appear in a rank as
high as his birth, or ambition, can possibly reach.
There is no particular, in the mean time, in which we are
more frequently unjust, than in applying to the individual the
supposed character of his country; or more frequently misled,
than in taking our notion of a people from the example of one, or
a few of their members. It belonged to the constitution of
Athens, to have produced a Cleon, and a Pericles; but all the
Athenians were not, therefore, like Cleon, or Pericles.
Themistocles and Aristides lived in the same age; the one advised
what was profitable; the other told his country what was just.

Section IV.

The Same subject continued

The law of Nature, with respect to nations, is the same that
it is with respect to individuals. it gives to the collective
body a right to preserve themselves; to employ, undisturbed, the
means of life; to retain the fruits of labour; to demand the
observance of stipulations and contracts. In the case of
violence, it condemns the aggressor, and establishes, on the part
of the injured, the right of defence, and a claim to retribution.
Its applications, however, admit of disputes, and give rise to
variety in the apprehension, as well as the practice of mankind.
Nations have agreed universally, in distinguishing right from
wrong; in exacting the reparation of injuries by consent or by
force. They have always reposed, in a certain degree, on the
faith of treaties; but have acted as if force were the ultimate
arbiter in all their disputes, and the power to defend
themselves, the surest pledge of their safety. Guided by these
common apprehensions, they have differed from one another, not
merely in points of form, but in points of the greatest
importance, respecting the usage of war, the effects of
captivity, and the rights of conquest and victory.
When a number of independent communities have been frequently
involved in wars, and have had their stated alliances and
oppositions, they adopt customs which they make the foundation of
rules, or of laws, to be observed, or alledged, in all their
mutual transactions. Even in war itself, they would follow a
system, and plead for the observance of forms in their very
operations for mutual destruction.
The ancient states of Greece and Italy derived their manners
in war from the nature of their republican government; those of
modern Europe, from the influence of monarchy, which, by its
prevalence in this part of the world, has a great effect on
nations, even where it is not the form established, Upon the
maxims of this government, we apprehend a distinction between the
state and its members, as that between the King and the people,
which renders war an operation of policy, not of popular
animosity. While we strike at the public interest, we would spare
the private; and we carry a respect and consideration for
individuals, which often stops the issues of blood in the ardour
of victory, and procures to the prisoner of war a hospitable
reception in the very city which he came to destroy. These
practices are so well established, that scarcely any provocation
on the part of an enemy, or any exigence of service, can excuse a
trespass on the supposed rules of humanity, or save the leader
who commits it from becoming an object of detestation and horror.
To this, the general practice of the Greeks and the Romans
was opposite. They endeavoured to wound the state by destroying
its members, by desolating its territory, and by ruining the
possessions of its subjects. They granted quarter only to
inslave, or to bring the prisoner to a more solemn execution; and
an enemy, when disarmed, was, for the most part, either sold in
the market, or killed, that he might never return to strengthen
his party. When this was the issue of war, it was no wonder, that
battles were fought with desperation, and that every fortress was
defended to the last extremity. The game of human life went upon
a high stake, and was played with a proportional zeal.
The term barbarian, in this state of manners, could not be
employed by the Greeks or the Romans in that sense in which we
use it; to characterise a people regardless of commercial arts;
profuse of their own lives, and of those of others; vehement in
their attachment to one society, and implacable in their
antipathy to another. This, in a great and shining part of their
history, was their own character, as well as that of some other
nations, whom, upon this very account, we distinguish by the
appellations of barbarous or rude.
It has been observed, that those celebrated nations are
indebted, for a great part of their estimation, not to the matter
of their history, but to the manner in which it has been
delivered, and to the capacity of their historians, and other
writers. Their story has been told by men who knew how to draw
our attention on the proceedings of the understanding and of the
heart, more than on the detail of facts; and who could exhibit
characters to be admired and loved, in the midst of actions which
we should now universally hate or condemn. Like Homer, the model
of Grecian literature, they could make us forget the horrors of a
vindictive, cruel, and remorseless proceeding towards an enemy,
in behalf of the strenuous conduct, the courage, and vehement
affections, with which the hero maintained the cause of his
friend and of his country.
Our manners are so different, and the system upon which we
regulate our apprehensions, in many things, so opposite, that no
less could make us endure the practice of ancient nations. Were
that practice recorded by the mere journalist, who retains only
the detail of events, without throwing any light on the character
of the actors; who, like the Tartar historian, tells only what
blood was spilt in the field, and how many inhabitants were
massacred in the city; we should never have distinguished the
Greeks from their barbarous neighbours, nor have thought, that
the character of civility pertained even to the Romans, till very
late in their history, and in the decline of their empire.
It would, no doubt, be pleasant to see the remarks of such a
traveller as we sometimes send abroad to inspect the manners of
mankind, left, unassisted by history, to collect the character of
the Greeks from the state of their country, or from their
practice in war. ‘This country,’ he might say, ‘compared to ours,
has an air of barrenness and desolation. I saw upon the road
troops of labourers, who were employed in the fields; but no
where the habitations of the master and the landlord. It was
unsafe, I was told, to reside in the country; and the people of
every district crouded into towns to find a place of defence. It
is indeed impossible, that they can be more civilized, till they
have established some regular government, and have courts of
justice to hear their complaints. At present, every town, nay, I
may say, every village, acts for itself, and the greatest
disorders prevail. I was not indeed molested; for you must know,
that they call themselves nations, and do all their mischief
under the pretence of war.
‘I do not mean to take any of the liberties of travellers,
nor to vie with the celebrated author of the voyage to Lilliput;
but cannot help endeavouring to communicate what I felt on
hearing them speak of their territory, their armies, their
revenue, treaties, and alliances. Only imagine the church-wardens
and constables of Highgate or Hampstead turned statesmen and
generals, and you will have a tolerable conception of this
singular country. I passed through one state, where the best
house in the capital would not lodge the meanest of your
labourers, and where your very beggars would not chuse to dine
with the King; and yet they are thought a great nation, and have
no less than two kings. I saw one of them; but such a potentate!
he had scarcely cloaths to his back; and for his Majesty’s table,
he was obliged to go to the eating-house with his subjects. They
have not a single farthing of money; and I was obliged to get
food at the public expence, there being none to be had in the
market. You will imagine, that there must have been a service of
plate, and great attendance, to wait upon the illustrious
stranger; but my fare was a mess of sorry pottage, brought me by
a naked slave, who left me to deal with it as I thought proper:
and even this I was in continual danger of having stoln from me
by the children, who are as vigilant to seize opportunities, and
as dextrous in snatching their food, as any starved greyhound you
ever saw. The misery of the whole people, in short, as well as my
own, while I staid there, was beyond description. You would think
that their whole attention were to torment themselves as much as
they can: they are even displeased with one of their kings for
being well liked. He had made a present, while I was there, of a
cow to one favourite, and of a waistcoat to another;(1*) and it
was publicly said, that this method of gaining friends was
robbing the public. My landlord told me very gravely, that a man
should come under no obligation that might weaken the love which
he owes to his country; nor form any personal attachment beyond
the mere habit of living with his friend, and of doing him a
kindness when he can.
‘I asked him once, Why they did not, for their own sakes,
enable their kings to assume a little more state? Because, says
he, we intend them the happiness of living with men. When I found
fault with their houses, and said in particular, that I was
surprised they did not build better churches; What would you be
then, says he, if you found religion in stone walls? This will
suffice for a sample of our conversation; and sententious as it
was, you may believe I did not stay long to profit by it.
‘The people of this place are not quite so stupid. There is a
pretty large square of a market-place, and some tolerable
buildings; and, I am told, they have some barks and lighters
employed in trade, which they likewise, upon occasion, muster
into a fleet, like my Lord Mayor’s shew. But what pleases me
most, is, that I am likely to get a passage from hence, and bid
farewell to this wretched country. I have been at some pains to
observe their ceremonies of religion, and to pick up curiosities.
I have copied some inscriptions, as you will see when you come to
peruse my journal, and will then judge, whether I have met with
enough to compensate the fatigues and bad entertainment to which
I have submitted. As for the people, you will believe, from the
specimen I have given you, that they could not be very engaging
company: though poor and dirty, they still pretend to be proud;
and a fellow who is not worth a groat, is above working for his
livelihood. They come abroad barefooted, and without any cover to
the head, wrapt up in the coverlets under which you would imagine
they had slept. They throw all off, and appear like so many naked
cannibals, when they go to violent sports and exercises; at which
they highly value feats of dexterity and strength. Brawny limbs,
and muscular arms, the faculty of sleeping out all nights, of
fasting long, and of putting up with any kind of food, are
thought genteel accomplishments. They have no settled government
that I could learn; sometimes the mob, and sometimes the better
sort, do what they please: they meet in great crouds in the open
air, and seldom agree about any thing. If a fellow has
presumption enough, and a loud voice, he can make a great figure.
There was a tanner here, some time ago, who, for a while, carried
every thing before him. He censured so loudly what others had
done, and talked so big of what might be performed, that he was
sent out at last to make good his words, and to curry the enemy
instead of his leather.(2*) You will imagine, perhaps, that he
was pressed for a recruit; no; — he was sent to command the
army. They are indeed seldom long of one mind, except in their
readiness to harass their neighbours. They go out in bodies, and
rob, pillage, and murder where-ever they come.’ So far may we
suppose our traveller to have written; and upon a recollection of
the reputation which those nations have acquired at a distance,
he might have added, perhaps, ‘That he could not understand how
scholars, fine gentlemen, and even women, should combine to
admire a people, who so little resemble themselves.’
To form a judgement of the character from which they acted in
the field, and in their competitions with neighbouring nations,
we must observe them at home. They were bold and fearless in
their civil dissensions; ready to proceed to extremities, and to
carry their debates to the decision of force. Individuals stood
distinguished by their personal spirit and vigour, not by the
valuation of their estates, Or the rank of their birth. They had
a personal elevation founded on the sense of equality, not of
precedence. The general of one campaign was, during the next, a
private soldier, and served in the ranks. They were solicitous to
acquire bodily strength; because, in the use of their weapons,
battles were a trial of the soldier’s strength, as well as of the
leader’s conduct, The remains of their statuary, shews a manly
grace, an air of simplicity and ease, which being frequent in
nature, were familiar to the artist. The mind, perhaps, borrowed
a Confidence and force, from the vigour and address of the body;
their eloquence and style bore a resemblance to the carriage of
the person. The understanding was chiefly cultivated in the
practice of affairs. The most respectable personages were obliged
to mix with the croud, and derived their degree of ascendency,
only from their conduct, their eloquence, and personal vigour.
They had no forms of expression, to mark a ceremonious and
guarded respect. Invective proceeded to railing, and the grossest
terms were often employed by the most admired and accomplished
orators. Quarrelling had no rules but the immediate dictates of
passion, which ended in words of reproach, in violence, and
blows. They fortunately went always unarmed; and to wear a sword
in times of peace, was among them the mark of a barbarian. When
they took arms in the divisions of faction, the prevailing party
supported itself by expelling their opponents, by proscriptions,
and bloodshed. The usurper endeavoured to maintain his station by
the most violent and prompt executions. He was opposed, in his
turn, by conspiracies and assassinations, in which the most
respectable citizens were ready to use the dagger.
Such was the character of their spirit, in its occasional
ferments at home; and it burst commonly with a suitable violence
and force, against their foreign rivals and enemies. The amiable
plea of humanity was little regarded by them in the operations of
war. Cities were razed, or inslaved; the captive sold, mutilated,
or condemned to die.
When viewed on this side, the ancient nations have but a
sorry plea for esteem with the inhabitants of modern Europe, who
profess to carry the civilities of peace into the practice of
war; and who value the praise of indiscriminate lenity at a
higher rate than even that of military prowess, or the love of
their country. And yet they have, in other respects, merited and
obtained our praise. Their ardent attachment to their country;
their contempt of suffering, and of death, in its cause. their
manly apprehensions of personal independence, which rendered
every individual, even under tottering establishments, and
imperfect laws, the guardian of freedom to his fellow-citizens;
their activity of mind; in short, their penetration, the ability
of their conduct, and force of their spirit, have gained them the
first rank among nations.
If their animosities were great, their affections were
proportionate: they, perhaps, loved, where we only pity; and were
stern and inexorable, where we are not merciful, but only
irresolute. After all, the merit of a man is determined by his
candour and generosity to his associates, by his zeal for
national objects, and by his vigour in maintaining political
rights; not by moderation alone, which proceeds frequently from
indifference to national and public interests, and which serves
to relax the nerves on which the force of a private as well as a
public character depends.
When under the Macedonian and the Roman monarchies, a nation
came to be considered as the estate of a prince, and the
inhabitants of a province to be regarded as a lucrative property,
the possession of territory, not the destruction of its people,
became the object of conquest. The pacific citizen had little
concern in the quarrels of sovereigns; the violence of the
soldier was restrained by discipline. He fought, because he was
taught to carry arms, and to obey: he sometimes shed unnecessary
blood in the ardour of victory; but, except in the case of civil
wars, had no passions to excite his animosity beyond the field
and the day of battle. Leaders judged of the objects of an
enterprise, and they arrested the sword when these were obtained.
In the modern nations of Europe, where extent of territory
admits of a distinction between the state and its subjects, we
are accustomed to think of the individual with compassion, seldom
of the public with zeal. We have improved on the laws of war, and
on the lenitives which have been devised to soften its rigours;
we have mingled politeness with the use of the sword; we have
learned to make war under the stipulations of treaties and
cartels, and trust to the faith of an enemy whose ruin we
meditate. Glory is more successfully obtained by saving and
protecting, than by destroying the vanquished: and the most
amiable of all objects is, in appearance, attained; the employing
of force, only for the obtaining of justice, and for the
preservation of national rights.
This is, perhaps, the principal characteristic, on which,
among modern nations, we bestow the epithets of civilized or of
polished. But we have seen, that it did not accompany the
progress of arts among the Greeks, nor keep pace with the
advancement of policy, literature, and philosophy. it did not
await the returns of learning and politeness among the moderns;
it was found in early periods of our history, and distinguished,
perhaps, more than at present, the manners of ages otherwise rude
and undisciplined. A King of France, prisoner in the hands of his
enemies, was treated, about four hundred years ago, with as much
distinction and courtesy, as a crowned head, in the like
circumstances, could possibly expect in this age of
politeness.(3*) The Prince of Conde, defeated and taken in the
battle of Dreux, slept at night in the same bed with his enemy
the Duke of Guise.(4*)
If the moral of popular traditions, and the taste of fabulous
legends, which are the production or entertainment of particular
ages, are likewise sure indications of their notions and
characters, we may presume, that the foundation of what is now
held to be the law of war, and of nations, was laid in the
manners of Europe, together with the sentiments which are
expressed in the tales of chivalry, and of gallantry. Our system
of war differs not more from that of the Greeks, than the
favourite characters of our early romance differed from those of
the iliad, and of every ancient poem. The hero of the Greek
fable, endued with superior force, courage, and address, takes
every advantage of an enemy, to kill with safety to himself; and
actuated by a desire of spoil, or by a principle of revenge, is
never stayed in his progress by interruptions of remorse or
compassion. Homer, who, of all poets, knew best how to exhibit
the emotions of a vehement affection, seldom attempts to excite
commiseration. Hector falls unpitied, and his body is insulted by
every Greek.
Our modern fable, or romance, on the contrary, generally
couples an object of pity, weak, oppressed, and defenceless, with
an object of admiration, brave, generous, and victorious; or
sends the hero abroad in search of mere danger, and of occasions
to prove his valour. Charged with the maxims of a refined
courtesy, to be observed even towards an enemy; and of a
scrupulous honour, which will not suffer him to take any
advantages by artifice or surprise; indifferent to spoil, he
contends only for renown, and employs his valour to rescue the
distressed, and to protect the innocent. If victorious, he is
made to rise above nature as much in his generosity and
gentleness, as in his military prowess and valour.
It may be difficult, upon stating this contrast between the
system of ancient and modern fable, to assign, among nations
equally rude, equally addicted to war, and equally fond of
military glory, the origin of apprehensions on the point of
honour, so different, and so opposite. The hero of Greek poetry
proceeds on the maxims of animosity and hostile passion. His
maxims in war are like those which prevail in the woods of
America. They require him to be brave, but they allow him to
practise against his enemy every sort of deception. The hero of
modern romance professes a contempt of stratagem, as well as of
danger, and unites in the same person, characters and
dispositions seemingly opposite; ferocity with gentleness, and
the love of blood with sentiments of tenderness and pity.
The system of chivalry, when completely formed, proceeded on
a marvellous respect and veneration to the fair sex, on forms of
combat established, and on a supposed junction of the heroic and
sanctified character. The formalities of the duel, and a kind of
judicial challenge, were known among the ancient Celtic nations
of Europe. The Germans, even in their native forests, paid a kind
of devotion to the female sex. The Christian religion injoined
meekness and compassion to barbarous ages. These different
principles combined together, may have served as the foundation
of a system, in which courage was directed by religion and love,
and the warlike and gentle were united together. When the
characters of the hero and the saint were mixed, the mild spirit
of Christianity, though often turned into venom by the bigotry of
opposite parties, though it could not always subdue the ferocity
of the warrior, nor suppress the admiration of courage and force,
may have confirmed the apprehensions of men in what was to be
held meritorious and splendid in the conduct of their quarrels.
In the early and traditionary history of the Greeks and the
Romans, rapes were assigned as the most frequent occasions of
war; and the sexes were, no doubt, at all times, equally
important to each other. The enthusiasm of love is most powerful
in the neighbourhood of Asia and Africa; and beauty, as a
possession, was probably more valued by the countrymen of Homer,
than it was by those of Amadis de Gaul, or by the authors of
modern gallantry. ‘What wonder, says the old Priam, when Helen
appeared, ’that nations should contend for the possession of so
much beauty?’ This beauty, indeed, was possessed by different
lovers; a subject on which the modern hero had many refinements,
and seemed to soar in the clouds. He adored at a respectful
distance, and employed his valour to captivate the admiration,
not to gain the possession of his mistress. A cold and
unconquerable chastity was set up, as an idol to be worshipped,
in the toils, the sufferings, and the combats of the hero and the
The feudal establishments, by the high rank to which they
elevated certain families, no doubt greatly favoured this
romantic system. Not only the lustre of a noble descent, but the
stately castle beset with battlements and towers, served to
inflame the imagination, and create a veneration for the daughter
and the sister of gallant chiefs, whose point of honour it was to
be inaccessible and chaste, and who could perceive no merit but
that of the high-minded and the brave, nor be approached in any
other accents than those of gentleness and respect.
What was originally singular in these apprehensions, was, by
the writer of romance, turned to extravagance; and under the
title of chivalry was offered as a model of conduct, even in
common affairs: the fortunes of nations were directed by
gallantry; and human life, on its greatest occasions, became a
scene of affectation and folly. Warriors went forth to realize
the legends they had studied; princes and leaders of armies
dedicated their most serious exploits to a real or to a fancied
But whatever was the origin of notions, often so lofty and so
ridiculous, we cannot doubt of their lasting effects on our
manners. The point of honour, the prevalence of gallantry in our
conversations, and on our theatres, many of the opinions which
the vulgar apply even to the conduct of war; their notion, that
the leader of an army, being offered battle upon equal terms, is
dishonoured by declining it, are undoubtedly remains of this
antiquated system: and chivalry, uniting with the genius of our
policy, has probably suggested those peculiarities in the law of
nations, by which modern states are distinguished from the
ancient. And if our rule in measuring degrees of politeness and
civilization is to be taken from hence, or from the advancement
of commercial arts, we shall be found to have greatly excelled
any of the celebrated nations of antiquity.


1. Plutarch, in the Life of Agesilaus.

2. Thucydides, lib. 4. — Aristophanes.

3. Hume’s History of England.

4. Davila.


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