« ForrigeFortsæt »
neous principles of political philosophy, and pointed out the one only ground on which the constitution of governments can be either condemned or justified by wise men.
If I interpret aright the signs of the times, that branch of politics which relates to the necessity and practicability of infusing -new life into our legislature, as the best means of securing talent and wisdom in the cabinet, will shortly occupy the public attention with a paramount interest. I would gladly, therefore, suggest the proper state of feeling, and the right preparatory notions with which this disquisition should be entered upon: and I do not know how I can effect this more naturally, than by relating the facts and circumstances which influenced my own mind. I can scarcely be accused of egotism, as in the communications and conversations which I am about to mention as having occurred to me during my residence abroad, I am no otherwise the hero of the tale, than as being the passive receiver or auditor.
To examine any thing wisely, two conditions are requisite: first, a distinct notion of the desirable ends, in the complete ac complishment of which would consist the perfection of such a thing, or its ideal excellence; and, secondly, a calm and kindly mode of feeling, without which we shall hardly fail either to overlook, or not to make due allowances for, the circumstances which prevent these ends from being all perfectly realized in the particular thing which we are to examine. For instance, we must have a general notion what a man can be and ought to be, before we can fitly proceed to determine on the merits or demerits of any one individual. For the examination of our own government, I prepared my mind, therefore, by a short catechism, which I shall communicate in the next essay, and on which the letter and anecdotes that follow, will, I flatter myself, be found an amusing, if not an instructive, commentary.
Hoc potissimum pacto felicem ac magnum regem se fore judicans; non si quam plurimis sed si quam optimis imperet. Proinde parum esse putat justis præsidiis regnum suum muniisse, nisi idem viris eruditione juxta ac vita integritate præcellentibus ditet atque honestet. Nimirum intelligit hæc demum esse vera regni decora, has veras opes: hanc veram et nullis unquam sæculis cessuram gloriam.—Erasmi Poncherio, Episc. Parisien. Epistola.
Judging that he will have employed the most effectual means of being a happy and powerful king, not by governing the most numerous but the most moral people. He deems it of small sufficiency to have protected the country by fleets and garrison, unless he shall at the same time enrich and illustrate it with men of eminent learning and sanctity. For these verily he conceives to be the true ornaments and wealth of his kingdom,—these its only genuine and imperishable glories.
IN what do all states agree? A number of men-exertpowers-in union. Wherein do they differ? First, in the quality and quantity of the powers. One state possesses chemists, mechanists, mechanics of all kinds, men of science; the arts of war and peace; and its citizens naturally strong and of habitual courage. Another state may possess none or a few only of these, or the same more imperfectly. Or of two states possessing the same in equal perfection the one is more populous than the other, as in the instance of France and Switzerland. Secondly, in the more or less perfect union of these powers. Compare Mr. Leckie's valuable and authentic documents respecting the state of Sicily with the preceding essay on taxation. Thirdly, in the greater or less activity of exertion. Think of the papal state and its silent metropolis, and then of the county of Lancaster and the towns of Manchester and Liverpool. What is the condition indispensable to the exertion of powers in union by a number of men? A government. What are the ends of government? They are of two kinds, negative and positive. The negative ends of government are the protection of life, of personal freedom, of property, of reputation, and of religion, from foreign and from domestic attacks. The positive ends are;—
First, to make the means of subsistence more easy to each individual:-Secondly, that in addition to the necessaries of life he should derive from the union and division of labor a share of the comforts and conveniences which humanize and ennoble his nature; and at the same time the power of perfecting himself in his own branch of industry by having those things which he needs provided for him by others among his fellow-citizens; the tools and raw or manufactured materials necessary for his own employment being included. I knew a profound mathematician in Sicily, who had devoted a full third of his life to the discovery of the longitude, and who had convinced not only himself but the principal mathematicians of Messina and Palermo that he had succeeded: but neither throughout Sicily nor Naples could he find a single artist capable of constructing the instrument which he had invented:*-Thirdly, the hope of bettering his own condition and that of his children. The civilized man gives up those stimulants of hope and fear which constitute the chief charm of the savage life and yet his Maker has distinguished him from the brute that perishes, by making hope an instinct of his nature, and an indispensable condition of his moral and intellectual progression. But a natural instinct constitutes a natural right, as far as its gratification is compatible with the equal rights of others. Hence our ancestors classed those who were bound to the soil (adscriptitii gleba) and incapable by law of altering their condition from that of their parents, as bondsmen or villeins, however advantageously they might otherwise be situated. Reflect on the direful effects of castes in Hindostan, and then transfer yourself in fancy to an English cottage,—
* The good old man, who is poor, old, and blind, universally esteemed for the innocence and austerity of his life not less than for his learning, and yet universally neglected, except by persons almost as poor as himself, strongly reminded me of a German epigram on Kepler, which may be thus translated:
No mortal spirit yet had clomb so high
And so the bodies left him without bread.
The good old man presented me with the book in which he has described and demonstrated his invention: and I should with great pleasure transmit it to any mathematician who would feel an interest in examining it and communicating his opinion on its merits.
Where o'er the cradled infant bending
and the fond mother dreams of her child's future fortunes.--Whe knows but he may come home a rich merchant, like such a one, or be a bishop or a judge? The prizes are indeed few and rare, but still they are possible and the hope is universal, and perhaps occasions more happiness than even its fulfilment :-Lastly, the development of those faculties which are essential to his human nature by the knowledge of his moral and religious duties, and the increase of his intellectual powers in as great a degree as is compatible with the other ends of social union, and does not involve a contradiction. The poorest Briton possesses much and important knowledge, which he would not have had, if Luther, Calvin, Newton, and their compeers had not existed; but it is evident that the means of science and learning could not exist, if all men had a right to be made profound mathematicians or men of extensive erudition. Still instruction is one of the ends of government; for it is that only which makes the abandonment of the savage state an absolute duty and that constitution is the best, under which the average sum of useful knowledge is the greatest, and the causes that awaken and encourage talent and genius, the most powerful and various.
These were my preparatory notions. The influences under which I proceeded to re-examine our own constitution, were the following, which I give, not exactly as they occurred, but in the order in which they will be illustrative of the different articles of the preceding paragraph. That we are better and happier than others is indeed no reason for our not becoming still better; especially as with states, as well as individuals, not to be progressive is to be retrograde. Yet the comparison will usefully temper the desire of improvement with love and a sense of gratitude for what we already are.
I. A LETTER RECEIVED, AT MALTA, FROM AN AMERICAN OFFICER OF
HIGH RANK, WHO HAS SINCE RECEIVED THE THANKS AND REWARDS OF CONGRESS FOR HIS SERVICES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN.
SIR, GRAND CAIRO, Dec. 13, 1804. The same reason, which induced me to request letters of introduction to his Britannic Majesty's agents here, suggested the
propriety of showing an English jack at the main top-gallant mast-head, on entering the port of Alexandria on the 26th ult. The signal was recognized; and Mr. B was immediately on board.
We found in port, a Turkish Vice Admiral, with a ship of the line, and six frigates; a part of which squadron is stationed there to preserve the tranquillity of the country; with just as much influence as the same number of pelicans would have on the same station.
On entering and passing the streets of Alexandria, I could not but notice the very marked satisfaction, which every expression and every countenance of all denominations of people, Turks and Frenchmen only excepted, manifested under an impression that we were the avant-couriers of an English army. They had conceived this from observing the English jack at our main, taking our flag perhaps for that of a feint, and because as is common enough everywhere, they were ready to believe what they wished. It would have been cruel to have undeceived them: consequently without positively assuming it, we passed in the character of Englishmen among the middle and lower orders of society, and as their allies among those of better information. Wherever we entered or wherever halted, we were surrounded by the wretched inhabitants; and stunned with their benedictions and prayers for blessings on us. 'Will the English come? Are they coming? God grant the English may come ! we have no commerce-we have no money-we have no bread! When will the English arrive?" My answer was uniformly, Patience! The same tone was heard at Rosetta as among the Alexandrians, indicative of the same dispositions; only it was not so loud, because the inhabitants are less miserable, although without any traits of happiness. On the fourth, we left that village for Cairo, and as well for our security as to facilitate our procurement of accommodations during our voyage, and our stay there, the resident directed his secretary, Capt. V———, to accompany us, and to give us lodgings in his house. We ascended the Nile leisurely, and calling at several villages, we plainly perceived that the national partiality, the strong and open expression of which proclaimed so loudly the feelings of the Egyptians of the sea-coast, was general throughout the country; and the prayers for the return of the English as earnest as universal.