Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

To prevent such mischiefs from arising out of studies, which, when rightly conducted, may turn very much to our advantage, I shall venture to assert, that, in our perusal of Greek or Roman authors, it is impossible to find a religious or civil constitution, any way comparable to that which we enjoy in our own country. Had not our religion been infinitely preferable to that of the ancient heathens, it would never have made its way through Paganism, with that amazing progress and activity. Its victories were the victories of reason, unassisted by the force of human power, and as gentle as the triumphs of light over darkness. The sudden reformation which it made among mankind, and which was so justly and frequently boasted of by the first apologists for Christianity, shows how infinitely preferable it is to any system of religion, that prevailed in the world before its appearance. This pre-eminence of Christianity to any other general religious scheme, which preceded it; appears likewise from this particular, that the most eminent and the most enlightened among the Pagan philosophers disclaimed many of those superstitious follies, which are condemned by revealed religion, and preached up several of those doctrines which are some of the most essential parts of it.

And here I cannot but take notice of that strange motive which is made use of in the history of freethinking, to incline us to depart from the revealed doctrines of Christianity, as adhered to by the people of Great Britain, because Socrates, with several other eminent Greeks, and Cicero, with many other learned Romans, did in the like manner, depart from the religious notions of their own countrymen. Now this author should have considered, that those very points, in which these wise men disagreed from the bulk of the people, are points in which they agreed with the received doctrines of our nation. Their free-thinking consisted in asserting the unity and immateriality of the Godhead, the immortality of the soul, a state of future rewards and punishments, and the necessity of virtue, exclusive of all silly and superstitious practices, to procure the happiness of a separate state. They were therefore only free-thinkers, so far forth as they approached to the doctrines of Christianity, that is, to those very doctrines which this kind of authors would persuade us, as free-thinkers, to doubt the truth of. Now, I would appeal to any reasonable person, whether these great men should not have been proposed to our imitation, rather as they embraced these divine truths, than only upon the account of their breaking loose from the common notions of their fellow citizens. But this would disappoint the general tendency of such writings.

I shall only add under this head, that as Christianity recovered the law of nature out of all those errors and corruptions, with which it was overgrown in the times of Paganism, our national religion has restored Christianity itself to that purity and simplicity in which it appeared, before it was gradually disguised and lost among the vanities and superstitions of the Romish church.

That our civil constitution is preferable to any among the Greeks or Romans, may appear from this single consideration; that the greatest theorists in matters of this nature, among those very people, have given the preference to such a form of government, as that which obtains in this kingdom, above any other form whatsoever. I shall mention Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero, that is, the greatest philosopher, the most impartial historian, and the most consummate statesman of all antiquity. These famous authors give the pre-eminence to a mixed government, consisting of three branches, the regal, the noble, and the popular, It would be very easy to prove, not only the reasonableness of this position, but to show, that there was never any constitution among the Greeks or Romans, in which these three branches were so well distinguished from each other, invested with such suitable pro

portions of power, and concurred together in the legislature, that is, in the most sovereign acts of government, with a necessary consent and harmony, as are to be met with in the constitution of this kingdom. But I have observed, in a foregoing paper, how defective the Roman commonwealth was in this particular, when compared with our own form of government; and it will not be difficult for the reader, upon singling out any other ancient state, to find how far it will suffer in the parallel.

No. 52. MONDAY, JUNE 18.

An tu populum Romanum esse illum putas qui constat ex iis, qui mercede

conducuntur? qui impelluntur, ut vim afferant magistratibus ? ut obsideant senatum optent quotidiè cædem, incendia, rapinas? quem tu tra men populum, nisi tabernis clausis, frequentare non poteras : cui populo duces Lentidios, Lollios, Sergios, præfeceras. O speciem, dignitatemque populi Romani, quam Reges, quam nationes exteræ, quam gentes ultimæ pertimescunt ; multitudinem hominum er servis conductis, ex facinorosis, ex egentibus congregatam !

CICERO. There is in all governments a certain temper of mind, natural to the patriots and lovers of their constitution, which may be called State Jealousy. It is this which makes them apprehensive of every tendency in the people, or in any particular member of the community, to endanger or disturb that form of rule, which is established by the laws and customs of their country. This political jealousy is absolutely requisite in some degree for the preservation of a government, and very reasonable in persons who are persuaded of the excellency of their constitution, and believe that they derive from it the most valuable blessings of society.

This public-spirited passion is more strong and active under some governments than others. The commonwealth of Venice, which hath subsisted by it for near fourteen hundred years, is so jealous of all its members, that it keeps continual spies upon their actions; and if any one of them presume to censure the established plan of that republic, or touch upon any of its fundamentals, he is brought before a secret council of state, tried in a most rigorous manner, and put to death without mercy. The usual way of proceeding with persons who discover themselves unsatisfied with the title of their sovereign in despotic governments, is to confine the malecontent, if his crimes are not capital, to some castle or dungeon for life. There is indeed no constitution, so tame and careless of their own defence, where any person dares to give the least sign or intimation of being a traitor in his heart. Our English history furnishes us with many examples of great severities during the disputes between the houses of York and Lancaster, inflicted on such persons as showed their disaffection to the prince who was on the throne. Every one knows, that a factious inn-keeper, in the reign of Henry the Seventh, was hanged, drawn, and quartered, for a saucy pun, which reflected, in a very dark and distant manner, upon the title of that prince to the crown. I do not mention the practice of other governments, as what should be imitated in ours, which, God be thanked, affords us all the reasonable liberty of speech and action, suited to a free people; nor do I take notice of this last instance of severity in our own country, to justify such a proceeding, but only to display the mildness and forbearance made use of under the reign of bis present majesty. It may, however, turn to the advantage of those who have been instrumental in stirring up the late tumults and seditions among the people, to consider the treatment which such a lawless, ungoverned rable would have met with in any other country, and under any other sovereign.

These incendiaries have had the art to work up into the most unnatural ferments, the most heavy and stupid part of the community; and, if I may use a fine saying of Terence upon another occasion, To convert fools into madmen.' This phrensy hath been raised among them to such a degree, that it has lately disco. vered itself in a sedition which is without a parallel. They have had the fool-hardiness to set a mark upon themselves on the Pretender's birth-day, as the declared friends to his cause, and professed enemies to their king and country. How fatal would such a distinction, of which every one knew the meaning, have proved in former reigns, when many a circumstance of less significancy has been construed into an overt-act of high treason! This unexampled piece of insolence will appear under its just aggravations, if we consider, in the first place, that it was aimed personally at the king.

I do not remember among any of our popular commotions, when marks of this nature have been in fashion, that either side were so void of common sense, as to intimate by them an aversion to their sovereign. His person was still held as sacred by both parties. The contention was not, who should be the monarch over them, but whose scheme of policy should take place in his administration. This was the conduct of Whigs and Tories under King Charles the Second's reign, when men hung out their principles in differentcoloured ribbons. Nay, in the times of the great rebellion, the avowed disaffection of the people always terminated in evil counsellors. Such an open outrage upon majesty, such an ostentation of disloyalty, was reserved for that infamous rabble of Englishmen, who may be justly looked upon as the scandal of the present age, and the most shameless and abandoned race of men that our nation has yet produced.

In the next place. It is very peculiar to this mob of malecontents, that they did not only distinguish themselves against their king, but against a king possessed of all the power of the nation, and one who had so very lately crushed all those of the same principles, that had bravery enough to avow them in the field of battle. Whenever was there an instance of a king

« ForrigeFortsæt »