Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

it; and that all this pretended glory has often had no other principle and foundation, but ambition, avarice, injustice, and cruelty.

This Seneca observes of the greatest warriors, and such as have had the largest share in the admiration of all ages. We find, [C] says he, abundance of heroes, who have carried fire and sword into many nations, have stormed towns which till their time were held impregnable, have conquered and ravaged vast provinces, and marched to the utmost limits of the earth, covered over with the blood of all opposers. But these conquerors of so many nations were themselves overcome by their passions. They found nobody that could resist them, but were themselves unable to resist their own ambition and cruelty.

Can we call the furious disposition of Alexander, which led him into distant and unknown countries, only with a view to plunder them, by any other name than madness? Was he wise, for depriving every private man, every country, of what was most dear and valuable, and for spreading desolation wherever he came, beginning with Greece, to which he owed his education? How intoxicated must he have been with glory, who thought the whole world too little for him? [d] He one day asked a pirate, whom he had taken, what right he thought he had to infest the seas: “ The same, answered he, boldly, that you “ have to over-run the world. But because I do it in

a small vessel, I am called a robber; and you are "named a conqueror, for doing it with a great fleet. ” A very sharp answer, and what is more, a true one.

[e] What was it that extinguished in the heart of Cæsar, all the sentiments of fidelity, submission, jus

tice,

[c] Senec. Ep. 94.

rum. Sed quia id ego exiguo na[a] Eleganter & veraciter Alex. vigio facio, latro vocor ; quia tu andro illi Magno quidam compre- magna classe, imperator. A fraghensus pirata respondit. Nam cùm ment of Tully's third book de Re. idem rex hominem interrogasset, publ. quoted by S. Aug. de Civ, quid ei videretur, ut mare haberet Dei, 1. 4. a.4. inlestum ; ille liberâ contumaciâ. [c] Quid C.Cesarem in sua fata Quod tibi, inquit, ut orbem terra. pariter ac publica immisit? Gloria

&

tice, humanity, and gratitude he owed to his republic, which had chosen him from the rest of the citizens, to advance him to the highest command, and lavish upon him its honours and dignities, but an immoderate ambition, and an illusion of false glory, which inspired him with an ardent desire of seeing all mankind under subjection to himself, and induced him to say that he would rather chuse to be the principal man in a village, than the second in Rome? What other motive induced him to turn those very arms against his country, she had put into his hands to be employed against the enemies of the state, and to make use of all the power and greatness he held only from her, to put her to the sword, after having deluged her in the blood of her children? [[ ] He doubtless thought, as Civilis the chief of the rebels, who endeavoured to shake off the Roman yoke, expressed it, that nothing was unlawful to a man when in arms, nor any body accountable for a victory; victoriæ rationem non reddi.

Every equitable and rational man, who shall read over attentively all the lives of the famous men among the Greeks and Romans, as they stand in Plutarch; if he examines and asks his own heart the question, will find that it is not Alexander or Cæsar he prefers before all the rest; that they were neither the greatest, nor the most accomplished, nor such as did the most honour to human nature; and that he does not judge them to be most deserving his esteem, love, and veneration, nor of the just praises of posterity.

Besides, military valour often leaves the men, whom conquests have made famous, very weak and mean at other times, and with reference to other objects. [g] Made up of good and bad qualities, they strive to appear great, when exposed to open yiew; but return to their natural littleness, as soon as they & ambitio, & nullus supra ceteros tus, &c. Palam laudares: secreta eminendi modus. Sen. Ep. 94. malè audiebant. Tacit. Hist. lib.

(6] Tacit. Hist. 1. 4. cm 14. 1. cap. 1o. [8] Malis bonisque artibus mix

are

are left to themselves, and the eyes of mankind taken off from them. It is surprising when we see them alone and without armies, what a mighty difference there is between a general and a great man.

In order to their passing a right judgment upon these famous conquerors, it is necessary to teach youth carefully to distinguish what is valuable in them from what deserves to be censured. In doing justice to their courage, activity, ability in business, and prudence, they must be blamed for frequently mistaking the use they should have made of those great qualitications, and employing such talents, as in themselves are always estimable, to the gratification of their vices and passions, which should have been made subservient only to virtue. For want of distinguishing things so different, it is but too usual to confound their real with their pretended motives, the private ends they proposed to themselves with the means of attaining them, and their abilities with the abuse they have made of them, and by an error still more pernicious, in suffering ourselves to be too much carried away by their great actions, which have lustre enough to conceal their vices and injustice, we pay them

an entire and unexceptionable regard, and accustom inattentive persons to place vice in the room of virtue, and highly commend what deserves to be blamed. It is the justice of the war, and the wisdom of the conqueror alone, which can render a victory glorious and worthy our admiration. For it must be laid down as a principle, that glory and justice are inseparable; [h] Nihil honestum esse potest, quod

[ justitiâ vacat; and [i] if it is private passion, and not the public advantage, that puts us upon facing dangers, such a disposition does not deserve the name of courage and resolution, but should rather be called ferocity and audaciousness.

[b] Offic. lib. 1. n. 62.

communi impellitur, audaciæ potius [] Animus paratus ad pericu- nomen habeat, quàm fortitudinis, lum si suâ cupiditate, non utilitate Ibid. n. 63.

A me

[k] A memorable speech of the chevalier Bayard's, as he was dying, shews the truth of what I have here been speaking. He had received a mortal wound, as he was fighting for his king, and was lying down at the foot of a tree. The constable duke de Bourbon, who was pursuing the army of the French, passing by, and knowing him, told him he was very much concerned to see a person of his merit in such a condition. Captain Bayard answered him, Sir, there is no concern due to me, for I die like an honest man : but I am concerned for you indeed, to see you fighting against your prince, your country, and your oath. And shortly after he gave up the ghost. Now where lay the glory? on the side of the conqueror, or was

. not the fate of the dying person far preferable to his?

Nobility of Birth. It must be owned there is a powerful charm [] in nobility of birth and the antiquity of families, to procure esteem, and gain upon the inclinations of mankind. This respect which it is natural to have for nobility, [m] is a kind of homage we think ourselves still obliged to pay to the memory of their ancestors for the great services they have done the state, and is the continued payment of a debt, which could not fully be discharged to them in person ; and for this reason extends to all their posterity.

[n] Besides the tie of gratitude, which engages us not to liinit our respect for great men to the time wherein they live, as they do not themselves confine their zeal to to such narrow bounds, but strive to be. come useful to future ages ; - [0] the public interest

[4] Hist. du Cheval. Bayard. [»] Senec. de Benef. lib. 4. cap.

Dj Erat hominum opinioni nobilitate ipsa, blanda conciliatricula, [O] Omnes boni semper nobilitati commendatus. Cic. pro Sext. 1.21. favemus, & quia utile est reipubli.

(m] Qua in oratione plerique cæ nobiles homines esse dignos mahoc perficiunt, ut tantum majoribus joribus suis, & quia valet apud nos torum debitum esse videatur, unde clarorum hominum, & bene de etiam, quod posteris solveretur, re- republicâ meritorum, memoria dundaret. De Leg. Agr. aid Popul. etiam mortuorum: Cic. pro Sext.

requires,

30.

n. 1.

p. 31.

requires, that we should pay this tribute of honour and regard to their descendants, as it is an engagement to them to support and perpetuate the reputation of their ancestors in their famils, by endeavouring to perpetuate also the same viriues, which have rendered their predecessors so illustrious.

But to make this honour, which is paid to nobility, a real homage, it must be voluntary, and proceed from the heart. The moment it is claimed as a debt, or forcibly demanded, the right to it is lost, and it changes into hatred and contempt. People are too well pleased with themselves not to be offended at the haughtiness of a man, who thinks every thing is due to him because he is well born, and looks down from the height of his rank with contempt upon the rest of mankind. For what mighty glory is it in reality to reckon up a long series of ancestors, illustrious by their virtues, without bearing any resemblance to them? Is the merit of others transferred upon us? [P] Or will a large collection of family pictures, hung round a hall, make a man considerable ? If the honour of families consists in being able to trace back their pedigree to distant ages, till they lose theinselves in the darkness of an obscure and unknown antiquity, [9] we are all equally noble in this respect; for we had all an original equally ancient.

* We must therefore return to the only source of true nobility, which is virtue and merit. [r] Nobles have been seen to dishonour their name by low and abject vices, and persons of mean extraction have advanced and ennobled their families by great qualities. It is honourable to support the glory of one's ancestors, by acțions which correspond with their reputation; and it is also glorious to leave a title to one's descen

a dants, which is not borrowed from our predecessors; to become the head and author of our own nobility;

[1] Non facit nobilein atrium artibus bonis aptius. Senec. lib. 3. plenum tumosis imaginibus. . . Ani- de Benef. cap. 28. mus facit nobilem. Senec. Ep. 44. * Nobilitas sola est atque unica

[9] Eadem omnibus principia, virtus. Juv. l. 3. sat. 8. eademque origo. Nemo altero no. [r] Senec, Controv. 6.1. 1. bilior, nisi cui rectius ingenium, & VOL. II,

S

and,

« ForrigeFortsæt »