Page images

dignation, and established a popular form. And when they have not had strength enough to support themselves, they have thrown themselves into the arms of despotism, as the more eligible of the two evils. This latter was the case of Denmark, which sought a refuge from the oppression of its nobility, in the strong-hold of arbitrary power. Poland has at present the name of republic, and it is one of the aristocratic form ; but it is well known, that the little finger of this government is heavier than the loins of arbitrary power in most nations. The people are not only politically, but personally, slaves, and treated with the utmost indignity. The republic of Venice is somewhat more moderate; yet even here, so heavy is the aristocratic yoke, that the nobles have been obliged to enervate the spirit of their subjects by every sort of debauchery; they have denied them the liberty of reason, and they have made them amends, by what a base soul will think a more valuable liberty, by not only allowing, but encouraging, them to corrupt themselves in the most scandalous manner. They consider their subjects as the farmer does the hog he keeps to feast upon. He holds him fast in his stye, but allows him to wallow as much as he pleases in his beloved filth and gluttony. So scandalously debauched a people as that of Venice is to be met with nowhere else. High, low, men, women, clergy, and laity, are all alike. The ruling nobility are no less afraid of one another, than they are of the people ; and, for that reason, politically enervate their own body by the same effeminate Tuxury by which they corrupt their subjects. They are impoverished by every means which can be invented; and they are kept in a perpetual terror by the horrors of a state inquisition. Here you see a people deprived of all rational freedom, and tyrannized over by about two thousand men; and yet this body of two thousand are so far from enjoying any liberty by the subjection of the rest, that they are in an infinitely severer state of slavery; they make themselves the most degenerate and unhappy of mankind, for no other purpose than that they may the more effectually contribute to the misery of a whole nation. In short, the regular and methodical proceedings of an aristocracy are more intolerable than the very excesses of a despotism, and, in general, much further from any remedy.

Thus, my Lord, we have pursued aristocracy through its whole progress; we have seen the seeds, the growth, and the fruit. It could boast none of the advantages of a despotism, miserable as those advantages were, and it was overloaded with an exuberance of mischiefs, unknown even to despotism itself. In effect, it is no more than a disorderly. tyranny. This form therefore could be little approved, even in speculation, by those who were capable of thinking, and could be less borne in practice by any who were capable of feeling. However, the fruitful policy of man was not yet exhausted. He had yet another farthing-candle to supply the deficiencies of the sun. This was the third form, known by political writers under the name of democracy. Here the people transacted all public business, or the greater part of it, in their own persons: their laws were made by themselves, and upon any failure of duty, their officers were accountable to themselves, and to them only. In all appearance, they had secured by this method the advantages of order and good government, without paying their liberty for the purchase. Now, my Lord, we are come to the masterpiece of Grecian refinement, and Roman solidity, a popular government. The earliest and most celebrated republic of this model was that of Athens. It was constructed by no less an artist than the celebrated poet and philosopher, Solon. But no sooner was this political vessel launched from the stocks, than it overset, even in the life-time of the builder. A tyranny immediately supervened; not by al foreign conquest, not by accident, but by the very nature and constitution of a democracy. An artful man became popular, the people had power in their hands, and they devolved a considerable share of their power upon their favourite; and the only use he made of this power, was to plunge those who gave it into slavery. Accident restored their liberty, and the same good fortune produced men of uncommon abilities and uncommon virtues amongst them. But these abilities were suffered to be of little service either to their possessors or to the state. Some of these men, for whose sakes alone we read their history, they banished; others they imprisoned; and all they treated with various circumstances of the most shameful ingratitude. Republics have many things in the spirit of absolute monarchy, but

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

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

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

The Athenians made a very rapid progress to the most enormous excesses. The people, under no restraint, soon grew dissolute, luxurious, and idle. They renounced all labour, and began to subsist themselves from the public revenues. They lost all concern for their common honour or safety, and could bear no advice that tended to reform them. At this time truth became offensive to those lords, the people, and most highly dangerous to the speaker. The orators no longer ascended the rostrum, but to corrupt them further with the most fulsome adulation. These orators were all bribed by foreign princes on the one side or the other. And besides its own parties, in this city there were parties, and avowed ones too, for the Persians, Spartans, and Macedonians, supported each of them by one or more demagogues pensioned and bribed to this iniquitous service. The people, forgetful of all virtue and public spirit, and intoxicated with the flatteries of their orators, (these courtiers of republics, and endowed with the distinguishing characteristics of all other courtiers,) this people, I say, at last arrived at that pitch of madness, that they coolly and deliberately, by an express law, made it capable for any man to propose an application of the immense sums squandered in public shows, even to the most necessary purposes of the state. When you see the people of this republic banishing and murdering their best and ablest citizens, dissipating the public treasure with the most senseless extravagance, and spending their whole time, as spectators or actors, in playing, fiddling, dancing, and singing, does it not, my Lord, strike your imagination with the image of a sort of complex Nero ? And does it not strike you with the greater horror, when you observe, not one man only, but a whole city, grown drunk with pride and power, running with a rage of folly into the same mean and senseless debauchery and extravagance ? But if this people resembled Nero in their extravagance, much more did they resemble and even exceed him in cruelty and injustice. In the time of Pericles, one of the most celebrated times in the history of that commonwealth, a king of Egypt sent them a

donation of corn. This they were mean enough to accept. And had the Egyptian prince intended the ruin of this city of wicked bedlamites, he could not have taken a more effectual method to do it, than by such an insnaring largess. The distribution of this bounty caused a quarrel; the majority set on foot an inquiry into the title of the citizens; and upon a vain pretence of illegitimacy, newly and occasionally set up, they deprived of their share of the royal donation no less than five thousand of their own body. They went further; they disfranchised them; and having once begun with an act of injustice, they could set no bounds to it. Not content with cutting them off from the rights of citizens, they plundered these unfortunate wretches of all their substance; and, to crown this master-piece of violence and tyranny, they actually sold every man of the five thousand for slaves in the public market. Observe, my Lord, that the five thousand we here speak of were cut off from a body of no more than nineteen thousand; for the entire number of citizens was no greater at that time. Could the tyrant who wished the Roman people but one neck; could the tyrant Caligula himself have done, nay, he could scarcely wish for, a greater mischief, than to have cut off, at one stroke, a fourth of his people ? Or has the cruelty of that series of sanguine tyrants, the Cæsars, ever presented such a piece of flagrant and extensive wickedness? The whole history of this celebrated republic is but one tissue of rashness, folly, ingratitude, injustice, tumult, violence, and tyranny, and indeed of every species of wickedness that can well be imagined. This was a city of wise men, in which a minister could not exercise his functions; a warlike people, amongst whom a general did not dare either to gain or lose a battle; a learned nation, in which a philosopher could not venture on a free inquiry. This was the city which banished Themistocles, starved Aristides, forced into exile Miltiades, drove out Anaxagoras, and poisoned Socrates. This was a city which changed the form of its government with the moon; eternal conspiracies, revolutions daily, nothing fixed and established. A republic, as an ancient philosopher has observed, is no one species of government, but a magazine of every species; here you find every sort of it, and that in the worst form. As there is a perpetual change, one rising and

« PreviousContinue »