« ForrigeFortsæt »
should do, than a man who is influenced by fear, as well as by other motives to virtue. It was a saying of Thales, the wise Milesian, "That of all wild beasts, a tyrant is the worst ; and of all tame beasts, a flatterer." They do, indeed, naturally beget one another, and always exist together. Persuade a prince that he is irresistible, and he will take care not to let so glorious an attribute lie dead and useless by him. An arbitrary power has something so great in it, that he must be more than man who is endowed with it but never exerts it.
This consequence of the doctrine I have been speaking of, is very often a fatal one to the people; there is another, which is no less destructive to the prince. A late unfortunate king very visibly owed his ruin to it. He relied upon the assurances of his people, that they would never resist him upon any pretence whatsoever, and accordingly, began to act like a king who was not under the restraint of laws, by dispensing with them, and taking on him that power which was vested in the whole legislative body. And what was the dreadful end of such a proceeding? It is too fresh in everybody's memory. Thus is a prince corrupted by the professors of this doctrine, and afterwards betrayed by them. The same persons are the actors, both in the temptation and the punishment. They assure him they will never resist, but retain their obedience under the utmost sufferings; he tries them in a few instances, and is deposed by them for his credulity.
I remember, at the beginning of King James's reign, the Quakers presented an address, which gave great offence to the high-churchmen of those times. But, notwithstanding the uncourtliness of their phrases, the sense was very honest. The address was as follows, to the best of my memory, for I then took great notice of it; and may serve as a counterpart to the foregoing one.
"THESE are to testify to thee our sorrow for our friend Charles, whom we hope thou wilt follow in everything that is good.
"We hear that thou art not of the religion of the land, any more than we, and, therefore, may reasonably expect that thou wilt give us the same liberty that thou takest thyself.
"We hope that in this and all things else, thou wilt promote the good of thy people, which will oblige us to pray that thy reign over us may be long and prosperous."
Had all King James's subjects addressed him with the same integrity, he had, in all probability, sat upon his throne till death had removed him from it.
No. 1. FRIDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1715.
Rara temporum felicitas, ubi sentire quæ velis, et quæ sentias dicere licet. TACIT.
THE arguments of an author lose a great deal of their weight, when we are persuaded that he only writes for argument's sake, and has no real concern in the cause which he espouses. This is the case of one, who draws his pen in the defence of property, without having any; except, perhaps, in the copy of a libel, or a ballad. One is apt to suspect that the passion for liberty, which appears in a Grub Street patriot, arises only from his apprehensions of a gaol; and that, whatever he may pretend, he does not write to secure, but to get something of his own. Should the government be overturned, he has nothing to lose but an old standish.
1 It is but justice to a great writer, to distinguish between his hasty and his deliberate compositions; between such of his works, as he had planned at his leisure, and finished with care, and such as he was called upon to furnish on the sudden, not with a view to his own fame, but to the discharge of some occasional duty, which a present emergency, or his character and station in life, imposed upon him. Such was apparently the case of the Freeholder; a set of periodical essays, undertaken in the heat of the rebellion in 1715, and with the best purpose of reconciling an abused people to the new succession; at a time when the writer was deeply engaged in public buisness, and had scarce the leisure to produce these papers so fast as they were demanded from him. For it was important, in that conjuncture, that the minds of men should be calmed and softened by some immediate applications; and the general good taste of that age made it expedient that such applications should be administered, not by an ordinary hand, but by the most polite and popular of our writers.
If these considerations be allowed their just weight, The Freeholder will be read with pleasure, and must even be thought to do no small credit to its author, though it be not always written with that force, or polished everywhere up to that perfect grace, which we admire so much in the Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian.
I question not but the reader will conceive a respect for the author of this paper, from the title of it; since he may be sure I am so considerable a man, that I cannot have less than forty shillings a year.
I have rather chosen this title than any other, because it is what I most glory in, and what most effectually calls to my mind the happiness of that government under which I live. As a British freeholder, I should not scruple taking place of a French marquis; and when I see one of my countrymen amusing himself in his little cabbage-garden, I naturally look upon him as a greater person than the owner of the richest vineyard in Champagne.
The House of Commons is the representative of men in my condition. I consider myself as one who1 give my consent to every law which passes: a freeholder in our government being of the nature of a citizen of Rome in that famous commonwealth; who, by the election of a tribune, had a kind of remote voice in every law that was enacted. So that a freeholder is but one remove from a legislator, and for that reason ought to stand up in the defence of those laws which are in some degree of his own making. For such is the nature of our happy constitution, that the bulk of the people virtually give their approbation to everything they are bound to obey, and prescribe to themselves those rules by which they are to walk.
At the same time that I declare I am a freeholder, I do not exclude myself from any other title. A freeholder may be either a voter, or a knight of the shire; a wit, or a foxhunter; a scholar, or a soldier; an alderman, or a courtier; a patriot, or a stock-jobber. But I choose to be distinguished by this denomination, as the freeholder is the basis of all other titles. Dignities may be grafted upon it; but this is the substantial stock, that conveys to them their life, taste, and beauty; and without which they are no more than blossoms, that would fall away with every shake of wind.2
And here I cannot but take occasion to congratulate my country upon the increase of this happy tribe of men, since, by the wisdom of the present parliament I find the race of
1 Who refers to one, and not to I. He should then have said-who gives his consent.
2 Shake of wind.] Better, blast, or, breath.—We say, a shake in music, but in nothing else.
freeholders spreading into the remotest corners of the island. I mean that act which passed in the late session for the encouragement of loyalty in Scotland: by which it is provided, "That all and every vassal and vassals in Scotland, who shall continue peaceable, and in dutiful allegiance to his Majesty, his heirs, and successors, holding lands or tenements of any offender (guilty of high-treason) who holds such lands or tenements immediately of the Crown, shall be vested and seized, and are hereby enacted and ordained to hold the said lands or tenements of his Majesty, his heirs, and successors, in fee and heritage for ever, by such manner of holding, as any such offender held such lands or tenements of the Crown," &c.
By this means it will be in the power of a Highlander to be at all times a good tenant, without being a rebel; and to deserve the character of a faithful servant, without thinking himself obliged to follow his master to the gallows.
How can we sufficiently extol the goodness of his present Majesty, who is not willing to have a single slave in his dominions! or enough to rejoice in the exercise of that loyalty, which, instead of betraying a man into the most ignominious servitude, (as it does in some of our neighbouring kingdoms,) entitles him to the highest privileges of freedom and property! It is now to be hoped that we shall have few vassals, but to the laws of our country.
When these men have a taste of property, they will naturally love that constitution from which they derive so great a blessing. There is an unspeakable pleasure in calling anything one's own. A freehold, though it be but in ice and snow, will make the owner pleased in the possession, and stout in the defence of it; and is a very proper reward of our allegiance to our present king, who (by an unparalleled instance of goodness in a sovereign, and infatuation in subjects) contends for the freedom of his people against themselves; and will not suffer many of them to fall into a state or slavery, which they are bent upon with so much eagerness and obstinacy.
A freeholder of Great Britain is bred with an aversion to everything that tends to bring him under a subjection to the arbitrary will of another. Of this we find frequent instances in all our histories; where the persons, whose characters are the most amiable, and strike us with the highest veneration,