Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

common interest with at least one part of the legislators.

If there be but one body of legislators, it is no better than a tyranny; if there are only two, there will want a casting voice, and one of them must at length be swallowed up by disputes and contentions that will necessarily arise between them. Four will have the same inconvenience as two, and a greater number would cause too much confusion. I could never read a passage in Polybius, and another in Cicero, to this purpose, without a secret pleasure in applying it to the English constitution, which it suits much better than the Roman. Both these great authors give the pre-eminence to a mixed government, consisting of three branches, the regal, the noble, and the popular. They had doubtless in their thoughts the constitution of the Roman commonwealth, in which the consul represented the king; the senate, the nobles; and the tribunes, the people. This division of the three powers in the Roman constitution, was by no means so distinct and natural, as it is in the English form of government. Among several objections that might be made to it, I think the chief are those that affect the consular power, which had only the ornaments without the force of the regal authority. Their number had not a casting voice in it; for which reason, if one did not chance to be employed abroad, while the other sat at home, the public business was sometimes at a stand, while the consuls pulled two different ways in it. Besides, I do not find that the consuls had ever a negative voice in the passing of a law, or decree of the senate; so that, indeed, they were rather the chief body of the nobility, or the first ministers of state, than a distinct branch of the sovereignty, in which none can be looked upon as a part, who are not a part of the legislature. Had the consuls been invested with the regal authority to as great a degree as our monarchs, there would never

have been any occasions for a dictatorship, which had in it the power of the three orders, and ended in the subversion of the whole constitution.

Such an history as that of Suetonius, which gives us a succession of absolute princes, is to me an unanswerable argument against despotic power. Where the prince is a man of wisdom and virtue, it is indeed happy for his people that he is absolute; but since in the common run of mankind, for one that is wise and good, you will find ten of a contrary character; it is very dangerous for a nation to stand to its chance, or to have its public happiness or misery to depend on the virtues or vices of a single person. Look into the historian I have mentioned, or into any series of absolute princes, how many tyrants must you read through, before you come to an emperor that is supportable! But this is not all; an honest private man often grows cruel and abandoned, when converted into an absolute prince. Give a man the power of doing what he pleases with impunity, you extinguish his fear, and consequently overturn in him one of the great pillars of morality. This too we find confirmed by matter of fact. How many hopeful heirs apparent to great empires, when in possession of them, have become such monsters of lust and cruelty as are a reproach to human nature!

Some tell us we ought to make our governments on earth like that in heaven, which, say they, is altogether monarchical and unlimited. Was a man like his Creator in goodness and justice, I should be for following this great model; but where goodness and justice are not essential to the rule, I would by no means put myself into his hands, to be disposed of according to his particular will and pleasure.

It is odd to consider the connection between despotic government and barbarity, and how the making of one person more than man, makes the rest less.

About nine parts of the world in ten are in the lowest state of slavery, and consequently sunk into the most gross and brutal ignorance. European slavery is indeed a state of liberty, if compared with that which prevails in the other three divisions of the world; and therefore it is no wonder that those who grovel under it, have many tracks of light among them, of which the others are wholly destitute.

Riches and plenty are the natural fruits of liberty; and where these abound, learning, and all the liberal arts, will immediately lift up their heads and flourish. As a man must have no slavish fears and apprehensions hanging upon his mind, who will indulge the flights of fancy or speculation, and push his researches into all the abstruse corners of truth; so it is necessary for him to have about him a competency of all the conveniencies of life.

The first thing every one looks after, is to provide himself with necessaries. This point will engross our thoughts until it be satisfied. If this is taken care of to our hands, we look out for pleasures and amusements; and among a great number of idle people, there will be many whose pleasures will lie in reading and contemplation. These are the two great sources of knowledge; and as men grow wise, they naturally love to communicate their discoveries; and others, seeing the happiness of such a learned life, and improving by their conversation, emulate, imitate, and surpass one another, until a nation is filled with races of wise and under

standing persons. Ease and plenty are therefore the great cherishers of knowledge; and as most of the despotic governments of the world have neither of them, they are naturally over-run with ignorance and barbarity. In Europe, indeed, notwithstanding several of its princes are absolute, there are men famous for knowledge and learning; but the reason is, because the subjects are many of them rich and wealthy, the prince not thinking fit to exert himself

in his full tyranny like the princes of the eastern nations, lest his subjects should be invited to new mould their constitution, having so many prospects of liberty within their view. But in all despotic governments, though a particular prince may favor arts and letters, there is a natural degeneracy of mankind, as you may observe from Augustus's reign, how the Romans lost themselves by degrees, till they fell to an equality with the most barbarous nations that surrounded them. Look upon Greece under its free states, and you would think its inhabitants lived in different climates, and under different heavens, from those at present; so different are the geniuses which are formed under Turkish slavery and Grecian liberty.

Besides poverty and want, there are other reasons that debase the minds of men who live under slavery, though I look on this as the principal. This natural tendency of despotic power to ignorance and barbarity, though not insisted upon by others, is, I think, an unanswerable argument against that form of government, as it shews how repugnant it is to the good of mankind, and the perfection of human nature, which ought to be the great ends of all civil institutions.

No. 289. THURSDAY, JANUARY 31.

Vite summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam.
HOR.

UPON taking my seat in a coffee-house, I often draw the eyes of the whole room upon me, when in the hottest seasons of news, and at a time that perhaps the Dutch mail is just come in, they hear me ask the coffee-man for his last week's bill of mortality. I find that I have been sometimes taken on

this occasion for a parish sexton, sometimes for an undertaker, and sometimes for a doctor of physic. In this, however, I am guided by the spirit of a philosopher, as I take occasion from hence to reflect upon the regular increase and diminution of mankind, and consider the several various ways through which we pass from life to eternity. I am very well pleased with these weekly admonitions, that bring into my mind such thoughts as ought to be the daily entertainment of every reasonable creature; and can consider, with pleasure to myself, by which of those deliverances, or, as we commonly call them, distempers, I may possibly make my escape out of this world of sorrows, into that condition of existence, wherein I hope to be happier than it is possible for me at present to conceive.

[ocr errors]

But this is not all the use I make of the abovementioned weekly paper. A bill of mortality is, in my opinion, an unanswerable argument for a Providence. How can we, without supposing ourselves under the constant care of a Supreme Being, give any possible account for that nice proportion which we find in every great city, between the deaths and births of its inhabitants, and between the number of males, and that of females, who are brought into the world? what else could adjust in so exact a manner, the recruits of every nation to its losses, and divide these new supplies of people into such equal bodies of both sexes? Chance could never hold the balance with so steady a hand. Were we not counted out by an intelligent supervisor, we should sometimes be over-charged with multitudes, and at others waste away into a desert: we should be sometimes a populus virorum, as Florus elegantly expresses it, "a generation of males, and at others a species of women." We may extend this consideration to every species of living creatures, and consider the whole animal world as an huge army, made up of an innumerable corps, if I may use that term, whose VOL. II.

Q

« ForrigeFortsæt »