An Essay on the History of Civil Society, Eighth Edition
Adam Ferguson, L.L.D.

Part 4 out of 6

submission which he owed to the state.

Thus, even where the collective body is sovereign, they are assembled only
occasionally; and though, on such occasions, they determine every question
relative to their rights and their interests as a people, and can assert
their freedom with irresistible force; yet they do not think themselves,
nor are they in reality, safe, without a more constant and more uniform
power operating in their favour.

The multitude is every where strong; but requires, for the safety of its
members, when separate as well as when assembled, a head to direct and to
employ its strength. For this purpose, the ephori, we are told, were
established at Sparta, the council of a hundred at Carthage, and the
tribunes at Rome. So prepared, the popular party has, in many instances,
been able to cope with its adversaries, and has even trampled on the
powers, whether aristocratical or monarchical, with which it would have
been otherwise unable to contend. The state, in such cases, commonly
suffered by the delays, interruptions, and confusions, which popular
leaders, from private envy, or a prevailing jealousy of the great, seldom
failed to create in the proceedings of government.

Where the people, as in some larger communities, have only a share in the
legislature, they cannot overwhelm the collateral powers, who having
likewise a share, are in condition to defend themselves: where they act
only by their representatives, their force may be uniformly employed. And
they may make a part in a constitution of government more lasting than any
of those in which the people, possessing or pretending to the entire
legislature, are, when assembled, the tyrants, and, when dispersed, the
slaves of a distempered state. In governments properly mixed, the popular
interest, finding a counterpoise in that of the prince or of the nobles, a
balance is actually established between them, in which the public freedom
and the public order are made to consist.

From some such casual arrangement of different interests, all the varieties
of mixed government proceed; and on that degree of consideration which
every separate interest can procure to itself, depends the equity of the
laws they enact, and the necessity they are able to impose, of adhering
strictly to the terms of law in its execution. States are accordingly
unequally qualified to conduct the business of legislation, and unequally
fortunate in the completeness, and regular observance, of their civil code.

In democratical establishments, citizens, feeling themselves possessed of
the sovereignty, are not equally anxious, with the subjects of other
governments, to have their rights explained, or secured, by actual statute.
They trust to personal vigour, to the support of party, and to the sense of
the public.

If the collective body perform the office of judge, as well as of
legislator, they seldom think of devising rules for their own direction,
and are found still more seldom to follow any determinate rule, after it is
made. They dispense, at one time, with what they enacted at another; and in
their judicative, perhaps even more than in their legislative, capacity,
are guided by passions and partialities that arise from circumstances of
the case before them.

But under the simplest governments of a different sort, whether aristocracy
or monarchy, there is a necessity for law, and there are a variety of
interests to be adjusted in framing every statute. The sovereign wishes to
give stability and order to administration, by express and promulgated
rules. The subject wishes to know the conditions and limits of his duty. He
acquiesces or he revolts, according as the terms on which he is made to
live with the sovereign, or with his fellow subjects, are, or are not,
consistent with the sense of his rights.

Neither the monarch, nor the council of nobles, where either is possessed
of the sovereignty, can pretend to govern, or to judge at discretion. No
magistrate, whether temporary or hereditary, can with safety neglect that
reputation for justice and equity, from which his authority, and the
respect that is paid to his person, are in a great measure derived.
Nations, however, have been fortunate in the tenor, and in the execution of
their laws, in proportion as they have admitted every order of the people,
by representation or otherwise, to an actual share of the legislature.
Under establishments of this sort, law is literally a treaty, to which the
parties concerned have agreed, and have given their opinion in settling its
terms. The interests to be affected by a law, are likewise consulted in
making it. Every class propounds an objection, suggests an addition or an
amendment of its own. They proceed to adjust, by statute, every subject of
controversy: and while they continue to enjoy their freedom, they continue
to multiply laws, and to accumulate volumes, as if they could remove every
possible ground of dispute, and were secure of their rights, merely by
having put them in writing.

Rome and England, under their mixed governments, the one inclining to
democracy, and the other to monarchy, have proved the great legislators
among nations. The first has left the foundation, and great part of the
superstructure of its civil code to the continent of Europe: the other, in
its island, has carried the authority and government of law to a point of
perfection, which they never before attained in the history of mankind.

Under such favourable establishments, known customs, the practice and
decisions of courts, as well as positive statutes, acquire the authority of
laws; and every proceeding is conducted by some fixed and determinate rule.
The best and most effectual precautions are taken for the impartial
application of rules to particular cases; and it is remarkable, that, in
the two examples we have mentioned, a surprising coincidence is found in
the singular methods of their jurisdiction. The people in both reserved in
a manner the office of judgment to themselves, and brought the decision of
civil rights, or of criminal questions, to the tribunal of peers, who, in
judging of their fellow citizens, prescribed a condition of life for

It is not in mere laws, after all, that we are to look for the securities
to justice, but in the powers by which these laws have been obtained, and
without whose constant support they must fall to disuse. Statutes serve to
record the rights of a people, and speak the intention of parties to defend
what the letter of the law has expressed; but without the vigour to
maintain what is acknowledged as a right, the mere record, or the feeble
intention, is of little avail.

A populace roused by oppression, or an order of men possessed of temporary
advantage, have obtained many charters, concessions, and stipulations, in
favour of their claims; but where no adequate preparation was made to
preserve them, the written articles were often forgotten, together with the
occasion on which they were framed.

The history of England, and of every free country, abounds with the example
of statutes enacted when the people or their representatives assembled, but
never executed when the crown or the executive was left to itself. The most
equitable laws on paper are consistent with the utmost despotism in
administration. Even the form of trial by juries in England had its
authority in law, while the proceedings of courts were arbitrary and

We must admire, as the key stone of civil liberty, the statute which forces
the secrets of every prison to be revealed, the cause of every commitment
to be declared, and the person of the accused to be produced, that he may
claim his enlargement, or his trial, within a limited time. No wiser form
was ever opposed to the abuses of power. But it requires a fabric no less
than the whole political constitution of Great Britain, a spirit no less
than the refractory and turbulent zeal of this fortunate people, to secure
its effects.

If even the safety of the person, and the tenure of property, which may be
so well defined in the words of a statute, depend, for their preservation,
on the vigour and jealousy of a free people, and on the degree of
consideration which every order of the state maintains for itself; it is
still more evident, that what we have called the political freedom, or the
right of the individual to act in his station for himself and the public,
cannot be made to rest on any other foundation. The estate may be saved,
and the person released, by the forms of a civil procedure; but the rights
of the mind cannot be sustained by any other force but its own.



We have already observed, that art is natural to man; and that the skill he
acquires after many ages of practice, is only the improvement of a talent
he possessed at the first. Vitruvius finds the rudiments of architecture in
the form of a Scythian cottage. The armourer may find the first productions
of his calling in the sling and the bow; and the shipwright of his in the
canoe of the savage. Even the historian and the poet may find the original
essays of their arts in the tale, and the song, which celebrate the wars,
the loves, and the adventures of men in their rudest condition.

Destined to cultivate his own nature, or to mend his situation, man finds a
continual subject of attention, ingenuity, and labour. Even where he does
not propose any personal improvement, his faculties are strengthened by
those very exercises in which he seems to forget himself: his reason and
his affections are thus profitably engaged in the affairs of society; his
invention and his skill are exercised in procuring his accommodations and
his food; his particular pursuits are prescribed to him by circumstances of
the age, and of the country in which he lives: in one situation, he is
occupied with wars and political deliberations; in another, with the care
of his interest, of his personal ease, or conveniency. He suits his means
to the ends he has in view; and, by multiplying contrivances, proceeds, by
degrees, to the perfection of his arts. In every step of his progress, if
his skill be increased, his desire must likewise have time to extend: and
it would be as vain to suggest a contrivance of which he slighted the use,
as it would be to tell him of blessings which he could not command.

Ages are generally supposed to have borrowed from those who went before
them, and nations to have received their portion of learning or of art from
abroad. The Romans are thought to have learned from the Greeks, and the
moderns of Europe from both. From a few examples of this sort, we learn to
consider every science or art as derived, and admit of nothing original in
the practice or manners of any people. The Greek was a copy of the
Egyptian, and even the Egyptian was an imitator, though we have lost sight
of the model on which he was formed.

It is known, that men improve by example and intercourse; but in the case
of nations, whose members excite and direct each other, why seek from
abroad the origin of arts, of which every society, having the principles in
itself, only requires a favourable occasion to bring them to light? When
such occasion presents itself to any people, they generally seize it; and
while it continues, they improve the inventions to which it gave rise among
themselves, or they willingly copy from others: but they never employ their
own invention, nor look abroad, for instruction on subjects that do not lie
in the way of their common pursuits; they never adopt a refinement of which
they have not discovered the use.

Inventions, we frequently observe, are accidental; but it is probable, that
an accident which escapes the artist in one age, may be seized by one who
succeeds him, and who is better apprized of its use. Where circumstances
are favourable, and where a people is intent on the objects of any art,
every invention is preserved, by being brought into general practice; every
model is studied, and every accident is turned to account. If nations
actually borrow from their neighbours, they probably borrow only what they
are nearly in a condition to have invented themselves.

Any singular practice of one country, therefore, is seldom transferred to
another, till the way be prepared by the introduction of similar
circumstances. Hence our frequent complaints of the dulness or obstinacy of
mankind, and of the dilatory communication of arts from one place to
another. While the Romans adopted the arts of Greece, the Thracians and
Illyrians continued to behold them with indifference. Those arts were,
during one period, confined to the Greek colonies, and during another, to
the Roman. Even where they were spread by a visible intercourse, they were
still received by independent nations with the slowness of invention. They
made a progress not more rapid at Rome than they had done at Athens; and
they passed to the extremities of the Roman empire, only in company with
new colonies, and joined to Italian policy.

The modern race, who came abroad to the possession of cultivated provinces,
retained the arts they had practised at home: the new master hunted the
boar, or pastured his herds, where he might have raised a plentiful
harvest; he built a cottage in the view of a palace; he buried, in one
common ruin, the edifices, sculptures, paintings, and libraries, of the
former inhabitant: he made a settlement upon a plan of his own, be said
with assurance, that although the Roman and the modern literature savour
alike of the Greek original, yet mankind, in either instance, would not
have drank of this fountain, unless they had been hastening to open springs
of their own.

Sentiment and fancy, the use of the hand or the head, are not inventions of
particular men; and the flourishing of arts that depend on them, are, in
the case of any people, a proof rather of political felicity at home, than
of any instruction received from abroad, or of any natural superiority in
point of industry or talents.

When the attentions of men are turned toward particular subjects, when the
acquisitions of one age are left entire to the next, when every individual
is protected in his place, and left to pursue the suggestion of his wants,
inventions accumulate; and it is difficult to find the original of any art.
The steps which lead to perfection are many; and we are at a loss on whom
to bestow the greatest share of our praise; on the first, or on the last,
who may have borne a part in the progress.



If we may rely on the general observations contained in the last section,
the literary, as well as mechanical arts, being a natural produce of the
human mind, will rise spontaneously wherever men are happily placed; and in
certain nations it is not more necessary to look abroad for the origin of
literature, than it is for the suggestion of any of the pleasures or
exercises in which mankind, under a state of prosperity and freedom, are
sufficiently inclined to indulge themselves.

We are apt to consider arts as foreign and adventitious to the nature of
man; but there is no art that did not find its occasion in human life, and
that was not, in some one or other of the situations in which our species
is found, suggested as a means for the attainment of some useful end. The
mechanic and commercial arts took their rise from the love of property, and
were encouraged by the prospects of safety and of gain: the literary and
liberal arts took their rise from the understanding, the fancy, and the
heart. They are mere exercises of the mind in search of its peculiar
pleasures and occupations; and are promoted by circumstances that suffer
the mind to enjoy itself.

Men are equally engaged by the past, the present, and the future, and are
prepared for every occupation that gives scope to their powers.
Productions, therefore, whether of narration, fiction, or reasoning, that
tend to employ the imagination, or move the heart; continue for ages a
subject of attention, and a source of delight. The memory of human
transactions being preserved in tradition or writing, is the natural
gratification of a passion that consists of curiosity, admiration, and the
love of amusement.

Before many books are written, and before science is greatly advanced, the
productions of mere genius are sometimes complete: the performer requires
not the aid of learning where his description of story relates to near and
contiguous objects; where it relates to the conduct and characters of men
with whom he himself has acted, and in whose occupations and fortunes he
himself has borne a part.

With this advantage, the poet is the first to offer the fruits of his
genius, and to lead in the career of those arts by which the mind is
destined to exhibit its imaginations, and to express its passions. Every
tribe of barbarians have their passionate or historic rhymes, which contain
the superstition, the enthusiasm, and the admiration of glory, with which
the breasts of men, in the earliest state of society, are possessed. They
delight in versification, either because the cadence of numbers is natural
to the language of sentiment, or because, not having the advantage of
writing, they are obliged to bring the ear in aid of the memory, in order
to facilitate the repetition, and ensure the preservation of their works.

When we attend to the language which savages employ on any solemn occasion,
it appears that man is a poet by nature. Whether at first obliged by the
mere defects of his tongue, and the scantiness of proper expressions, or
seduced by a pleasure of the fancy in stating the analogy of its objects,
he clothes every conception in image and metaphor. "We have planted the
tree of peace," says an American orator; "we have buried the axe under its
roots: we will henceforth repose under its shade; we will join to brighten
the chain that binds our nations together." Such are the collections of
metaphor which those nations employ in their public harangues. They have
likewise already adopted those lively figures, and that daring freedom of
language, which the learned have afterwards found so well fitted to express
the rapid transitions of the imagination, and the ardours of a passionate

If we are required to explain, how men could be poets, or orators, before
they were aided by the learning of the scholar and the critic? we may
inquire, in our turn, how bodies could fall by their weight, before the
laws of gravitation were recorded in books? Mind, as well as body, has
laws, which are exemplified in the course of nature, and which the critic
collects only after the example has shown what they are.

Occasioned, probably, by the physical connection we have mentioned, between
the emotions of a heated imagination, and the impressions received from
music and pathetic sounds, every tale among rude nations is repeated in
verse, and is made to take the form of a song. The early history of all
nations is uniform in this particular. Priests, statesmen, and
philosophers, in the first ages of Greece, delivered their instructions in
poetry, and mixed with the dealers in music and heroic fable.

It is not so surprising, however, that poetry should be the first species
of composition in every nation, as it is that a style, apparently so
difficult, and so far removed from ordinary use, should be almost as
universally the first to attain its maturity. The most admired of all poets
lived beyond the reach of history, almost of tradition. The artless song of
the savage, the heroic legend of the bard, have sometimes a magnificent
beauty, which no change of language can improve, and no refinements of the
critic reform. [Footnote: See Translations of Gallic Poetry, by James

Under the supposed disadvantage of a limited knowledge, and a rude
apprehension, the simple poet has impressions that more than compensate the
defects of his skill. The best subjects of poetry, the characters of the
violent and the brave, the generous and the intrepid, great dangers, trials
of fortitude and fidelity, are exhibited within his view, or are delivered
in traditions which animate like truth, because they are equally believed.
He is not engaged in recalling, like Virgil or Tasso, the sentiments or
scenery of an age remote from his own; he needs not be told by the critic,
[Footnote: See Longinus.] to recollect what another would have thought, or
in what manner another would have expressed his conception. The simple
passions, friendship, resentment, and love, are the movements of his own
mind, and he has no occasion to copy. Simple and vehement in his
conceptions and feelings, he knows no diversity of thought, or of style, to
mislead or to exercise his judgment. He delivers the emotions of the heart,
in words suggested by the heart; for he knows no other. And hence it is,
that while we admire the judgment and invention of Virgil, and of other
later poets, these terms appear misapplied to Homer. Though intelligent, as
well as sublime, in his conceptions, we cannot anticipate the lights of his
understanding, nor the movements of his heart; he appears to speak from
inspiration, not from invention; and to be guided in the choice of his
thoughts and expressions by a supernatural instinct, not by reflection.

The language of early ages is, in one respect, simple and confined; in
another, it is varied and free: it allows liberties, which, to the poet of
after-times, are denied.

In rude ages men are not separated by distinctions of rank or profession.
They live in one manner, and speak one dialect. The bard is not to choose
his expression among the singular accents of different conditions. He has
not to guard his language from the peculiar errors of the mechanic, the
peasant, the scholar, or the courtier, in order to find that elegant
propriety, and just elevation, which is free from the vulgar of one class,
the pedantic of the second, or the flippant of the third. The name of every
object, and of every sentiment, is fixed; and if his conception has the
dignity of nature, his expression will have a purity which does not depend
on his choice.

With this apparent confinement in the choice of his words, he is at liberty
to break through the ordinary modes of construction; and in the form of a
language not established by rules, may find for himself a cadence agreeable
to the tone of his mind. The liberty he takes, while his meaning is
striking, and his language is raised, appears an improvement, not a
trespass on grammar. He delivers a style to the ages that follow, and
becomes a model from which his posterity judge.

But whatever may be the early disposition of mankind to poetry, or the
advantages they possess in cultivating this species of literature; whether
the early maturity of poetical compositions arise from their being the
first studied, or from their having a charm to engage persons of the
liveliest genius, who are best qualified to improve the eloquence of their
native tongue; it is a remarkable fact, that, not only in countries where
every vein of composition was original, and was opened in the order of
natural succession; but even at Rome, and in modern Europe, where the
learned began early to practise on foreign models, we have poets of every
nation, who are perused with pleasure, while the prose writers of the same
ages are neglected.

As Sophocles and Euripides preceded the historians and moralists of Greece,
not only Naevius and Ennius, who wrote the Roman history in verse, but
Lucilius, Plautus, Terence, and we may add Lucretius, were prior to Cicero,
Sallust, or Caesar. Dante and Petrarch went before any good prose writer in
Italy; Corneille and Racine brought on the fine age of prose compositions
in France; and we had in England, not only Chaucer and Spenser, but
Shakspeare and Milton, while our attempts in history or science were yet in
their infancy; and deserve our attention, only for the sake of the matter
they treat.

Hellanicus, who is reckoned among the first prose writers in Greece, and
who immediately preceded, or was the contemporary of Herodotus, set out
with declaring his intention to remove from history the wild
representations, and extravagant fictions, with which it had been disgraced
by the poets. [Footnote: Quoted by Demetrius Phalerius.] The want of
records or authorities, relating to any distant transactions, may have
hindered him, as it did his immediate successor, from giving truth all the
advantage it might have reaped from this transition to prose. There are,
however, ages in the progress of society, when such a proposition must be
favourably received. When men become occupied on the subjects of policy, or
commercial arts, they wish to be informed and instructed, as well as moved.
They are interested by what was real in past transactions. They build on
this foundation the reflections and reasonings they apply to present
affairs, and wish to receive information on the subject of different
pursuits, and of projects in which they begin to be engaged. The manners of
men, the practice of ordinary life, and the form of society, furnish their
subjects to the moral and political writer. Mere ingenuity, justness of
sentiment, and correct representation, though conveyed in ordinary
language, are understood to constitute literary merit, and by applying to
reason more than to the imagination and passions, meet with a reception
that is due to the instruction they bring.

The talents of men come to be employed in a variety of affairs, and their
inquiries directed to different subjects. Knowledge is important in every
department of civil society, and requisite to the practice of every art.
The science of nature, morals, politics, and history, find their, several
admirers; and even poetry itself, which retains its former station in the
region of warm imagination and enthusiastic passion, appears in a growing
variety of forms.

Matters have proceeded so far, without the aid of foreign examples, or the
direction of schools. The cart of Thespis was changed into a theatre, not
to gratify the learned, but to please the Athenian populace; and the prize
of poetical merit was decided by this populace equally before and after the
invention of rules. The Greeks were unacquainted with every language but
their own; and if they became learned, it was only by studying what they
themselves had produced: the childish mythology, which they are said to
have copied from Asia, was equally of little avail in promoting their love
of arts, or their success in the practice of them.

When the historian is struck with the events he has witnessed, or heard;
when he is excited to relate them by his reflections or his passions; when
the statesman, who is required to speak in public, is obliged to prepare
for every remarkable appearance in studied harangues; when conversation
becomes extensive and refined; and when the social feelings and reflections
of men are committed to writing, a system of learning may arise from the
bustle of an active life. Society itself is the school, and its lessons are
delivered in the practice of real affairs. An author writes from
observations he has made on his subject, not from the suggestion of books;
and every production carries the mark of his character as a man, not of his
mere proficiency as a student or scholar. It may be made a question,
whether the trouble of seeking for distant models, and of wading for
instruction, through dark allusions and languages unknown, might not have
quenched his fire, and rendered him a writer of a very inferior class.

If society may thus be considered as a school for letters, it is probable
that its lessons are varied in every separate state, and in every age. For
a certain period, the severe applications of the Roman people to policy and
war suppressed the literary arts, and appear to have stifled the genius
even of the historian and the poet. The institutions of Sparta gave a
professed contempt for whatever was not connected with the practical
virtues of a vigorous and resolute spirit: the charms of imagination, and
the parade of language, were by this people classed with the arts of the
cook and the perfumer: their songs in praise of fortitude are mentioned by
some writers; and collections of their witty sayings and repartees are
still preserved: they indicate the virtues and the abilities of an active
people, not their proficiency in science or literary taste. Possessed of
what was essential to happiness in the virtues of the heart, they had a
discernment of its value, unembarrassed by the numberless objects on which
mankind in general are so much at a loss to adjust their esteem: fixed in
their own apprehension, they turned a sharp edge on the follies of mankind.
"When will you begin to practise it?" was the question of a Spartan to a
person who, in an advanced age of life, was still occupied with questions
on the nature of virtue.

While this people confined their studies to one question, how to improve
and to preserve the courage and disinterested affections of the human
heart; their rivals, the Athenians, gave a scope to refinement on every
object of reflection or passion. By the rewards, either of profit or of
reputation, which they bestowed on every effort of ingenuity employed in
ministering to the pleasure, the decoration, or the conveniency of life; by
the variety of conditions in which their citizens were placed; by their
inequalities of fortune, and their several pursuits in war, politics,
commerce, and lucrative arts, they awakened whatever was either good or bad
in the natural dispositions of men. Every road to eminence was opened:
eloquence, fortitude, military skill, envy, detraction, faction, and
treason, even the muse herself, was courted to bestow importance among a
busy, acute, and turbulent people.

From this example, we may safely conclude, that although business is
sometimes a rival to study, retirement and leisure are not the principal
requisites to the improvement, perhaps not even to the exercise, of
literary talents. The most striking exertions of imagination and sentiment
have a reference to mankind: they are excited by the presence and
intercourse of men: they have most vigour when actuated in the mind by the
operation of its principal springs, by the emulations, the friendships, and
the oppositions which subsist among a forward and aspiring people. Amidst
the great occasions which put a free, and even a licentious society in
motion, its members become capable of every exertion; and the same scenes
which gave employment to Themistocles and Thrasybulus, inspired, by
contagion, the genius of Sophocles and Plato. The petulant and the
ingenious find an equal scope to their talents; and literary monuments
become the repositories of envy and folly, as well as of wisdom and virtue.

Greece, divided into many little states, and agitated, beyond any spot on
the globe, by domestic contentions and foreign wars, set the example in
every species of literature. The fire was communicated to Rome; not when
the state ceased to be warlike, and had discontinued her political
agitations, but when she mixed the love of refinement and of pleasure with
her national pursuits, and indulged an inclination to study in the midst of
ferments, occasioned by the wars and pretensions of opposite factions. It
was revived in modern Europe among the turbulent states of Italy, and
spread to the north, together with the spirit which shook the fabric of the
Gothic policy: it rose while men were divided into parties, under civil or
religious denominations, and when they were at variance on subjects held
the most important and sacred.

We may be satisfied, from the example of many ages, that liberal endowments
bestowed on learned societies, and the leisure with which they were
furnished for study, are not the likeliest means to excite the exertions of
genius: even science itself, the supposed offspring of leisure, pined in
the shade of monastic retirement. Men at a distance from the objects of
useful knowledge, untouched by the motives that animate an active and a
vigorous mind, could produce only the jargon of a technical language, and
accumulate the impertinence of academical forms.

To speak or to write justly from an observation of nature, it is necessary
to have felt the sentiments of nature. He who is penetrating and ardent in
the conduct of life, will probably exert a proportional force and ingenuity
in the exercise of his literary talents: and although writing may become a
trade, and require all the application and study which are bestowed on any
other calling; yet the principal requisites in this calling are, the spirit
and sensibility of a vigorous mind.

In one period, the school may take its light and direction from active
life; in another, it is true, the remains of an active spirit are greatly
supported by literary monuments, and by the history of transactions that
preserve the examples and the experience of former and of better times. But
in whatever manner men are formed for great efforts of elocution or
conduct, it appears the most glaring of all deceptions, to look for the
accomplishments of a human character in the mere attainments of
speculation, whilst we neglect the qualities of fortitude and public
affection, which are so necessary to render our knowledge an article of
happiness or of use.



* * * * *



It is evident, that, however urged by a sense of necessity, and a desire of
convenience, or favoured by any advantages of situation and policy, a
people can make no great progress in cultivating the arts of life, until
they have separated, and committed to different persons, the several tasks
which require a peculiar skill and attention. The savage, or the barbarian,
who must build and plant, and fabricate for himself, prefers, in the
interval of great alarms and fatigues, the enjoyments of sloth to the
improvement of his fortune: he is, perhaps, by the diversity of his wants,
discouraged from industry; or, by his divided attention, prevented from
acquiring skill in the management of any particular subject.

The enjoyment of peace, however, and the prospect of being able to exchange
one commodity for another, turns, by degrees, the hunter and the warrior
into a tradesman and a merchant. The accidents which distribute the means
of subsistence unequally, inclination, and favourable opportunities, assign
the different occupations of men; and a sense of utility leads them,
without end, to subdivide their professions.

The artist finds, that the more he can confine his attention to a
particular part of any work, his productions are the more perfect, and grow
under his hands in the greater quantities. Every undertaker in manufacture
finds, that the more he can subdivide the tasks of his workmen, and the
more hands he can employ on separate articles, the more are his expenses
diminished, and his profits increased. The consumer too requires, in every
kind of commodity, a workmanship more perfect than hands employed on a
variety of subjects can produce; and the progress of commerce is but a
continued subdivision of the mechanical arts.

Every craft may engross the whole of a man's attention, and has a mystery
which must be studied or learned by a regular apprenticeship. Nations of
tradesmen come to consist of members, who, beyond their own particular
trade, are ignorant of all human affairs, and who may contribute to the
preservation and enlargement of their commonwealth, without making its
interest an object of their regard or attention. Every individual is
distinguished by his calling, and has a place to which he is fitted. The
savage, who knows no distinction but that of his merit, of his sex, or of
his species, and to whom his community is the sovereign object of
affection, is astonished to find, that in a scene of this nature, his being
a man does not qualify him for any station whatever: he flies to the woods
with amazement, distaste, and aversion.

By the separation of arts and professions, the sources of wealth are laid
open; every species of material is wrought up to the greatest perfection,
and every commodity is produced in the greatest abundance. The state may
estimate its profits and its revenues by the number of its people. It may
procure, by its treasure, that national consideration and power, which the
savage maintains at the expense of his blood.

The advantage gained in the inferior branches of manufacture by the
separation of their parts, seem to be equalled by those which arise from a
similar device in the higher departments of policy and war. The soldier is
relieved from every care but that of his service; statesmen divide the
business of civil government into shares; and the servants of the public,
in every office, without being skilful in the affairs of state, may
succeed, by observing forms which are already established on the experience
of others. They are made, like the parts of an engine, to concur to a
purpose, without any concert of their own: and equally blind with the
trader to any general combination, they unite with him, in furnishing to
the state its resources, its conduct, and its force.

The artifices of the beaver, the ant, and the bee, are ascribed to the
wisdom of nature. Those of polished nations are ascribed to themselves, and
are supposed to indicate a capacity superior to that of rude minds. But the
establishments of men, like those of every animal, are suggested by nature,
and are the result of instinct, directed by the variety of situations in
which mankind are placed. Those establishments arose from successive
improvements that were made, without any sense of their general effect; and
they bring human affairs to a state of complication, which the greatest
reach of capacity with which human nature was ever adorned, could not have
projected; nor even when the whole is carried into execution, can it be
comprehended in its full extent.

Who could anticipate, or even enumerate, the separate occupations and
professions by which the members of any commercial state are distinguished;
the variety of devices which are practised in separate cells, and which the
artist, attentive to his own affair, has invented, to abridge or to
facilitate his separate task? In coming to this mighty end, every
generation, compared to its predecessors, may have appeared to be
ingenious; compared to its followers, may have appeared to be dull: and
human ingenuity, whatever heights it may have gained in a succession of
ages, continues to move with an equal pace, and to creep in making the
last, as well as the first, step of commercial or civil improvement.

It may even be doubted, whether the measure of national capacity increases
with the advancement of arts. Many mechanical arts, indeed, require no
capacity; they succeed best under a total suppression of sentiment and
reason; and ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition.
Reflection and fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand, or
the foot, is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly, prosper most
where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may, without any
great effort of imagination, be considered as an engine, the parts of which
are men.

The forest has been felled by the savage without the use of the axe, and
weights have been raised without the aid of the mechanical powers. The
merit of the inventor, in every branch, probably deserves a preference to
that of the performer; and he who invented a tool, or could work without
its assistance, deserved the praise of ingenuity in a much higher degree
than the mere artist, who, by its assistance, produces a superior work.

But if many parts in the practice of every art, and in the detail of every
department, require no abilities, or actually tend to contract and to limit
the views of the mind, there are others which lead to general reflections,
and to enlargement of thought. Even in manufacture, the genius of the
master, perhaps, is cultivated, while that of the inferior workman lies
waste. The statesman may have a wide comprehension of human affairs, while
the tools he employs are ignorant of the system in which they are
themselves combined. The general officer may be a great proficient in the
knowledge of war, while the skill of the soldier is confined to a few
motions of the hand and the foot. The former may have gained what the
latter has lost; and being occupied in the conduct of disciplined armies,
may practise on a larger scale all the arts of preservation, of deception,
and of stratagem, which the savage exerts in leading a small party, or
merely in defending himself.

The practitioner of every art and profession may afford matter of general
speculation to the man of science; and thinking itself, in this age of
separations, may become a peculiar craft. In the bustle of civil pursuits
and occupations, men appear in a variety of lights, and suggest matter of
inquiry and fancy, by which conversation is enlivened, and greatly
enlarged. The productions of ingenuity are brought to the market; and men
are willing to pay for whatever has a tendency to inform or amuse. By this
means the idle, as well as the busy, contribute to forward the progress of
arts, and bestow on polished nations that air of superior ingenuity, under
which they appear to have gained the ends that were pursued by the savage
in his forest, knowledge, order, and wealth.



There is one ground of subordination in the difference of natural talents
and dispositions; a second in the unequal division of property; and a
third, not less sensible, in the habits which are acquired by the practice
of different arts.

Some employments are liberal, others mechanic. They require different
talents, and inspire different sentiments; and whether or not this be the
cause of the preference we actually give, it is certainly reasonable to
form our opinion of the rank that is due to men of certain professions and
stations, from the influence of their manner of life in cultivating the
powers of the mind, or in preserving the sentiments of the heart.

There is an elevation natural to man, by which he would be thought, in his
rudest state, however urged by necessity, to rise above the consideration
of mere subsistence, and the regards of interest: he would appear to act
only, from the heart, in its engagements of friendship or opposition; he
would shew himself only upon occasions of danger or difficulty, and leave
ordinary cares to the weak or the servile.

The same apprehensions, in every situation, regulate his notions of
meanness or of dignity. In that of polished society, his desire to avoid
the character of sordid, makes him conceal his regard for what relates
merely to his preservation or his livelihood. In his estimation, the
beggar, who depends upon charity; the labourer, who toils that he may eat;
the mechanic, whose art requires no exertion of genius, are degraded by the
object they pursue, and by the means they employ to attain it. Professions
requiring more knowledge and study; proceeding on the exercise of fancy,
and the love of perfection; leading to applause as well as to profit, place
the artist in a superior class, and bring him nearer to that station in
which men, because they are bound to no task, because they are left to
follow the disposition of the mind, and to take that part in society to
which they are led by the sentiments of the heart, or by the calls of the
public, are supposed to be highest.

This last was the station, which, in the distinction betwixt freemen and
slaves, the citizens of every ancient republic strove to gain, and to
maintain for themselves. Women, or slaves, in the earliest ages, had been
set apart for the purposes of domestic care, or bodily labour; and in the
progress of lucrative arts, the latter were bred to mechanical professions,
and were even intrusted with merchandise for the benefit of their masters.
Freemen would be understood to have no object beside those of politics and
war. In this manner, the honours of one half of the species were sacrificed
to those of the other; as stones from the same quarry are buried in the
foundation, to sustain the blocks which happen to be hewn for the superior
parts of the pile. In the midst of our encomiums bestowed on the Greeks and
the Romans, we are, by this circumstance, made to remember, that no human
institution is perfect.

In many of the Grecian states, the benefits arising to the free from this
cruel distinction, were not conferred equally on all the citizens. Wealth
being unequally divided, the rich alone were exempted from labour; the poor
were reduced to work for their own subsistence: interest was a reigning
passion in both, and the possession of slaves, like that of any other
lucrative property, became an object of avarice, not an exemption from
sordid attentions. The entire effects of the institution were obtained, or
continued to be enjoyed for any considerable time, at Sparta alone. We feel
its injustice; we suffer for the helot, under the severities and unequal
treatment to which he was exposed: but when we think only of the superior
order of men in this state; when we attend to that elevation and
magnanimity of spirit, for which danger had no terror, interest no means to
corrupt; when we consider them as friends, or as citizens, we are apt to
forget, like themselves, that slaves have a title to be treated like men.

We look for elevation of sentiment, and liberality of mind, among those
orders of citizens, who, by their condition, and their fortunes, are
relieved from sordid cares and attentions. This was the description of a
free man at Sparta; and if the lot of a slave among the ancients was really
more wretched than that of the indigent labourer and the mechanic among the
moderns, it may be doubted whether the superior orders, who are in
possession of consideration and honours, do not proportionally fail in the
dignity which befits their condition. If the pretensions to equal justice
and freedom should terminate in rendering every class equally servile and
mercenary, we make a nation of helots, and have no free citizens.

In every commercial state, notwithstanding any pretension to equal rights,
the exaltation of a few must depress the many. In this arrangement, we
think that the extreme meanness of some classes must arise chiefly from the
defect of knowledge, and of liberal education; and we refer to such
classes, as to an image of what our species must have been in its rude and
uncultivated state. But we forget how many circumstances, especially in
populous cities, tend to corrupt the lowest orders of men. Ignorance is the
least of their failings. An admiration of wealth unpossessed, becoming a
principle of envy, or of servility; a habit of acting perpetually with a
view to profit, and under a sense of subjection; the crimes to which they
are allured, in order to feed their debauch, or to gratify their avarice,
are examples, not of ignorance, but of corruption and baseness. If the
savage has not received our instructions, he is likewise unacquainted with
our vices. He knows no superior, and cannot be servile; he knows no
distinctions of fortune, and cannot be envious; he acts from his talents in
the highest station which human society can offer, that of the counsellor,
and the soldier of his country. Toward forming his sentiments, he knows all
that the heart requires to be known; he can distinguish the friend whom he
loves, and the public interest which awakens his zeal.

The principal objections, to democratical or popular government, are taken
from the inequalities which arise among men in the result of commercial
arts. And it must be confessed, that popular assemblies, when composed of
men whose dispositions are sordid, and whose ordinary applications are
illiberal, however they may be intrusted with the choice of their masters
and leaders, are certainly, in their own persons, unfit to command. How can
he who has confined his views to his own subsistence or preservation, be
intrusted with the conduct of nations? Such men, when admitted to
deliberate on matters of state, bring to its councils confusion and tumult,
or servility and corruption; and seldom suffer it to repose from ruinous
factions, or the effect of resolutions ill formed or ill conducted.

The Athenians retained their popular government under all these defects.
The mechanic was obliged, under a penalty, to appear in the public
market-place, and to hear debates on the subjects of war and of peace. He
was tempted by pecuniary rewards, to attend on the trial of civil and
criminal causes. But, notwithstanding an exercise tending so much to
cultivate their talents, the indigent came always with minds intent upon
profit, or with the habits of an illiberal calling. Sunk under the sense of
their personal disparity and weakness, they were ready to resign themselves
entirely to the influence of some popular leader, who flattered their
passions, and wrought on their fears; or, actuated by envy, they were ready
to banish from the state whomsoever was respectable and eminent in the
superior order of citizens; and whether from their neglect of the public at
one time, or their mal-administration at another, the sovereignty was every
moment ready to drop from their hands.

The people, in this case, are, in fact, frequently governed by one, or a
few, who know how to conduct them. Pericles possessed a species of princely
authority at Athens; Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar, either jointly or
successively, possessed for a considerable period the sovereign direction
at Rome.

Whether in great or in small states, democracy is preserved with
difficulty, under the disparities of condition, and the unequal cultivation
of the mind, which attend the variety of pursuits, and applications, that
separate mankind in the advanced state of commercial arts. In this,
however, we do but plead against the form of democracy, after the principle
is removed; and see the absurdity of pretensions to equal influence and
consideration, after the characters of men have ceased to be similar.



Mankind, when in their rude state, have a great uniformity of manners; but
when civilized, they are engaged in a variety of pursuits; they tread on a
larger field, and separate to a greater distance. If they be guided,
however, by similar dispositions, and by like suggestions of nature, they
will probably in the end, as well as in the beginning of their progress,
continue to agree in many particulars; and while communities admit, in
their members, that diversity of ranks and professions which we have
already described as the consequence or the foundation of commerce, they
will resemble each other in many effects of this distribution, and of other
circumstances in which they nearly concur.

Under every form of government, statesmen endeavour to remove the dangers
by which they are threatened from abroad, and the disturbances which molest
them at home. By this conduct, if successful, they in a few ages gain an
ascendant for their country; establish a frontier at a distance from its
capital; they find, in the mutual desires of tranquillity, which come to
possess mankind, and in those public establishments which tend to keep the
peace of society, a respite from foreign wars, and a relief from domestic
disorders. They learn to decide every contest without tumult, and to
secure, by the authority of law, every citizen in the possession of his
personal rights.

In this condition, to which thriving nations aspire, and which they in some
measure attain, mankind having laid the basis of safety, proceed to erect a
superstructure suitable to their views. The consequence is various in
different states; even in different orders of men of the same community;
and the effect to every individual corresponds with his station. It enables
the statesman and the soldier to settle the forms of their different
procedure; it enables the practitioner in every profession to pursue his
separate advantage; it affords the man of pleasure a time for refinement,
and the speculative, leisure for literary conversation or study.

In this scene, matters that have little reference to the active pursuits of
mankind, are made subjects of inquiry, and the exercise of sentiment and
reason itself becomes a profession. The songs of the bard, the harangues of
the statesman and the warrior, the tradition and the story of ancient
times, are considered as the models, or the earliest production, of so many
arts, which it becomes the object of different professions to copy or to
improve. The works of fancy, like the subjects of natural history, are
distinguished into classes and species; the rules of every particular kind
are distinctly collected; and the library is stored, like the warehouse,
with the finished manufacture of different artists, who, with the aids of
the grammarian and the critic, aspire, each in his particular way, to
instruct the head, or to move the heart.

Every nation is a motley assemblage of different characters, and contains,
under any political form, some examples of that variety, which the humours,
tempers, and apprehensions of men, so differently employed, are likely to
furnish. Every profession has its point of honour, and its system of
manners; the merchant his punctuality and fair dealing; the statesman his
capacity and address; the man of society his good breeding and wit. Every
station has a carriage, a dress, a ceremonial, by which it is
distinguished, and by which it suppresses the national character under that
of the rank, or of the individual.

This description may be applied equally to Athens and Rome, to London and
Paris. The rude, or the simple observer, would remark the variety he saw in
the dwellings and in the occupations, of different men, not in the aspect
of different nations. He would find, in the streets of the same city, as
great a diversity, as in the territory of a separate people. He could not
pierce through the cloud that was gathered before him, nor see how the
tradesman, mechanic, or scholar, of one country, should differ from those
of another. But the native of every province can distinguish the foreigner;
and when he himself travels, is struck with the aspect of a strange
country, the moment he passes the bounds of his own. The air of the person,
the tone of the voice, the idiom of language, and the strain of
conversation, whether pathetic or languid, gay or severe, are no longer the

Many such differences may arise among polished nations, from the effects of
climate, or from sources of fashion, that are still more hidden or
unobserved; but the principal distinctions on which we can rest, are
derived from the part a people are obliged to act in their national
capacity; from the objects placed in their view by the state; or from the
constitution of government, which, prescribing the terms of society to its
subjects, had a great influence in forming their apprehensions and habits.

The Roman people, destined to acquire wealth by conquest, and by the spoil
of provinces; the Carthaginians, intent on the returns of merchandise, and
the produce of commercial settlements, must have filled the streets of
their several capitals with men of a different disposition and aspect. The
Roman laid hold of his sword when he wished to be great, and the state
found her armies prepared in the dwellings of her people. The Carthaginian
retired to his counter on a similar project; and, when the state was
alarmed, or had resolved on a war, lent of his profits to purchase an army

The member of a republic, and the subject of a monarchy, must differ;
because they have different parts assigned to them by the forms of their
country: the one destined to live with his equals, or to contend, by his
personal talents and character, for pre-eminence; the other, born to a
determinate station, where any pretence to equality creates a confusion,
and where nought but precedence is studied. Each, when the institutions of
his country are mature, may find in the laws a protection to his personal
rights; but those rights themselves are differently understood, and with a
different set of opinions, give rise to a different temper of mind. The
republican must act in the state, to sustain his pretensions; he must join
a party, in order to be safe; he must lead one, in order to be great. The
subject of monarchy refers to his birth for the honour he claims; he waits
on a court, to shew his importance; and holds out the ensigns of dependence
and favour, to gain him esteem with the public.

If national institutions, calculated for the preservation of liberty,
instead of calling upon the citizen to act for himself, and to maintain his
rights, should give a security, requiring, on his part, no personal
attention or effort; this seeming perfection of government might weaken the
bands of society, and, upon maxims of independence, separate and estrange
the different ranks it was meant to reconcile. Neither the parties formed
in republics, nor the courtly assemblies, which meet in monarchical
governments, could take place, where the sense of a mutual dependence
should cease to summon their members together. The resorts for commerce
might be frequented, and mere amusement might be pursued in the crowd,
while the private dwelling became a retreat for reserve, averse to the
trouble arising from regards and attentions, which it might be part of the
political creed to believe of no consequence, and a point of honour to hold
in contempt.

This humour is not likely to grow either in republics or monarchies: it
belongs more properly to a mixture of both; where the administration of
justice may be better secured; where the subject is tempted to look for
equality, but where he finds only independence in its place; and where he
learns, from a spirit of equality, to hate the very distinctions to which,
on account of their real importance, he pays a remarkable deference.

In either of the separate forms of republic or monarchy, or in acting on
the principles of either, men are obliged to court their fellow citizens,
and to employ parts and address to improve their fortunes, or even to be
safe. They find in both a school for discernment and penetration; but in
the one, are taught to overlook the merits of a private character for the
sake of abilities that have weight with the public; and in the other to
overlook great and respectable talents, for the sake of qualities engaging
or pleasant in the scene of entertainment and private society. They are
obliged, in both, to adapt themselves with care to the fashion and manners
of their country. They find no place for caprice or singular humours. The
republican must be popular, and the courtier polite. The first must think
himself well placed in every company; the other must choose his resorts,
and desire to be distinguished only where the society itself is esteemed.
With his inferiors, he takes an air of protection; and suffers, in his
turn, the same air to be taken with himself. It did not, perhaps, require
in a Spartan, who feared nothing but a failure in his duty, who loved
nothing but his friend and the state, so constant a guard on himself to
support his character, as it frequently does in the subject of a monarchy,
to adjust his expense and his fortune to the desires of his vanity, and to
appear in a rank as high as his birth, or ambition, can possibly reach.

There is no particular, in the mean time, in which we are more frequently
unjust, than in applying to the individual the supposed character of his
country; or more frequently misled; than in taking our notion of a people
from the example of one, or a few of their members. It belonged to the
constitution of Athens, to have produced a Cleon, and a Pericles; but all
the Athenians were not, therefore, like Cleon, or Pericles. Themistocles
and Aristides lived in the same age; the one advised what was profitable,
the other told his country what was just.



The law of nature, with respect to nations, is the same that it is with
respect to individuals: it gives to the collective body a right to preserve
themselves; to employ undisturbed the means of life; to retain the fruits
of labour; to demand the observance of stipulations and contracts. In the
case of violence, it condemns the aggressor, and establishes, on the part
of the injured, the right of defence, and a claim to retribution. Its
applications, however, admit of disputes, and give rise to variety in the
apprehension, as well as the practice of mankind.

Nations have agreed universally, in distinguishing right from wrong; in
exacting the reparation of injuries by consent or by force. They have
always reposed, in a certain degree, on the faith of treaties; but have
acted as if force were the ultimate arbiter in all their disputes, and the
power to defend themselves, the surest pledge of their safety. Guided by
these common apprehensions, they have differed from one another, not merely
in points of form, but in points of the greatest importance, respecting the
usage of war, the effects of captivity, and the rights of conquest and

When a number of independent communities have been frequently involved in
wars, and have had their stated alliances and oppositions, they adopt
customs which they make the foundation of rules, or of laws, to be
observed, or alleged, in all their mutual transactions. Even in war itself,
they would follow a system, and plead for the observance of forms in their
very operations for mutual destruction.

The ancient states of Greece and Italy derived their manners in war from
the nature of their republican government; those of modern Europe, from the
influence of monarchy, which, by its prevalence in this part of the world,
has a great effect on nations, even where it is not the form established.
Upon the maxims of this government, we apprehend a distinction between the
state and its members, as that between the king and the people, which
renders war an operation of policy, not of popular animosity. While we
strike at the public interest, we would spare the private; and we carry a
respect and consideration for individuals, which often stops the issues of
blood in the ardour of victory, and procures to the prisoner of war a
hospitable reception in the very city which he came to destroy. These
practices are so well established, that scarcely any provocation on the
part of an enemy, or any exigence of service, can excuse a trespass on the
supposed rules of humanity, or save the leader who commits it from becoming
an object of detestation and horror.

To this, the general practice of the Greeks and the Romans was opposite.
They endeavoured to wound the state by destroying its members, by
desolating its territory, and by ruining the possessions of its subjects.
They granted quarter only to enslave, or to bring the prisoner to a more
solemn execution; and an enemy, when disarmed, was, for the most part,
either sold in the market or killed, that he might never return to
strengthen his party. When this was the issue of war, it was no wonder that
battles were fought with desperation, and that every fortress was defended
to the last extremity. The game of human life went upon a high stake, and
was played with a proportional zeal.

The term _barbarian_, in this state of manners, could not be employed
by the Greeks or the Romans in that sense in which we use it: to
characterize, a people regardless of commercial arts; profuse of their own
lives, and those of others; vehement in their attachment to one society,
and implacable in their antipathy to another. This, in a great and shining
part of their history, was their own character, as well as that of some
other nations, whom, upon this very account, we distinguish by the
appellations of _barbarous_ or _rude._

It has been observed, that those celebrated nations are indebted, for a
great part of their estimation, not to the matter of their history, but to
the manner in which it has been delivered, and to the capacity of their
historians, and other writers. Their story has been told by men who knew
how to draw our attention on the proceedings of the understanding and of
the heart, more than on external effects; and who could exhibit characters
to be admired and loved, in the midst of actions which we should now
universally hate or condemn. Like Homer, the model of Grecian literature,
they could make us forget the horrors of a vindictive, cruel, and
remorseless treatment of an enemy, in behalf of the strenuous conduct, the
courage, and vehement affections, with which the hero maintained the cause
of his friend and of his country.

Our manners are so different, and the system upon which we regulate our
apprehensions, in many things so opposite, that no less could make us
endure the practice of ancient nations. Were that practice recorded by the
mere journalist, who retains only the detail of events, without throwing
any light on the character of the actors; who, like the Tartar historian,
tells us only what blood was spilt in the field, and how many inhabitants
were massacred in the city; we should never have distinguished the Greeks
from their barbarous neighbours, nor have thought, that the character of
civility pertained even to the Romans, till very late in their history, and
in the decline of their empire.

It would, no doubt, be pleasant to see the remarks of such a traveller as
we sometimes send abroad to inspect the manners of mankind, left,
unassisted by history, to collect the character of the Greeks from the
state of their country, or from their practice in war. "This country," he
might say, "compared to ours, has an air of barrenness and desolation. I
saw upon the road troops of labourers, who were employed in the fields; but
no where the habitations of the master and the landlord. It was unsafe, I
was told, to reside in the country; and the people of every district
crowded into towns to find a place of defence. It is, indeed, impossible,
that they can be more civilized, till they have established some regular
government, and have courts of justice to hear their complaints. At present
every town, nay, I may say, every village, acts for itself, and the
greatest disorders prevail. I was not indeed molested; for you must know,
that they call themselves nations, and do all their mischief under the
pretence of war.

"I do not mean to take any of the liberties of travellers, nor to vie with
the celebrated author of the voyage to Lilliput; but cannot help
endeavouring to communicate what I felt on hearing them speak of their
territory, their armies, their revenues, treaties, and alliances. Only
imagine the church-wardens and constables of Highgate or Hampstead turned
statesmen and generals, and you will have a tolerable conception of this
singular country. I passed through one state, where the best house in the
capital would not lodge the meanest of your labourers, and where your very
beggars would not choose to dine with the king; and yet they are thought a
great nation, and have no less than two kings. I saw one of them; but such
a potentate! He had scarcely clothes to his back; and for his majesty's
table, he was obliged to go to the eating-house with his subjects. They
have not a single farthing of money; and I was obliged to get food at the
public expense, there being none to be had in the market. You will imagine,
that there must have been a service of plate, and great attendance, to wait
on the illustrious stranger; but my fare was a mess of sorry pottage,
brought me by a naked slave, who left me to deal with it as I thought
proper: and even this I was in continual danger of having stolen from me by
the children; who are as vigilant to seize opportunities, and as dexterous
in snatching their food, as any starved greyhound you ever saw. The misery
of the whole people, in short, as well as my own, while I staid there, was
beyond description. You would think that their whole attention were to
torment themselves as much as they can: they are even displeased with one
of their kings for being well liked. He had made a present, while I was
there, of a cow to one favourite, and of a waistcoat to another; [Footnote:
Plutarch in the life of Agesilaus,] and it was publicly said, that this
method of gaining friends was robbing the public. My landlord told me very
gravely, that a man should come under no obligation that might weaken the
love which he owes to his country; nor form any personal attachment beyond
the mere habit of living with his friend, and of doing him a kindness when
he can.

"I asked him once, why they did not, for their own sakes, enable their
kings to assume a little more state? Because, says he, we intend them the
happiness of living with men. When I found fault with their houses, and
said, in particular, that I was surprised they did not build better
churches: What would you be then, says he, if you found religion in stone
walls? This will suffice for a sample of our conversation; and sententious
as it was, you may believe I did not stay long to profit by it.

"The people of this place are not quite so stupid. There is a pretty large
square of a market-place, and some tolerable buildings; and, I am told,
they have some barks and lighters employed in trade, which they likewise,
upon occasion, muster into a fleet, like my lord mayor's show. But what
pleases me most is, that I am likely to get a passage from hence, and bid
farewell to this wretched country. I have been at some pains to observe
their ceremonies of religion, and to pick up curiosities. I have copied
some inscriptions, as you will see when you come to peruse my journal, and
will then judge, whether I have met with enough to compensate the fatigues
and bad entertainment to which I have submitted. As for the people, you
will believe, from the specimen I have given you, that they could not be
very engaging company: though poor and dirty, they still pretend to be
proud; and a fellow who is not worth a groat, is above working for his
livelihood. They come abroad barefooted, and without any cover to the head,
wrapt up in the coverlets under which you would imagine they had slept.
They throw all off, and appear like so many naked cannibals, when they go
to violent sports and exercises; at which they highly value feats of
dexterity and strength. Brawny limbs, and muscular arms, the faculty of
sleeping out all nights, of fasting long, and of putting up with any kind
of food, are thought genteel accomplishments. They have no settled
government that I could learn; sometimes the mob, and sometimes the better
sort, do what they please: they meet in great crowds in the open air, and
seldom agree in any thing. If a fellow has presumption enough, and a loud
voice, he can make a great figure. There was a tanner here, some time ago,
who, for a while, carried every thing before him. He censured so loudly
what others had done, and talked so big of what might be performed, that he
was sent out at last to make good his words, and to curry the enemy instead
of his leather. [Footnote: Thucydides, lib. 4. Aristophanes] You will
imagine, perhaps, that he was pressed for a recruit; no; he was sent to
command the army. They are indeed seldom long of one mind, except in their
readiness to harass their neighbours. They go out in bodies, and rob,
pillage, and murder wherever they come." So far may we suppose our
traveller to have written; and upon a recollection of the reputation which
those nations have acquired at a distance, he might have added, perhaps,
"That he could not understand how scholars, fine gentlemen, and even women,
should combine to admire a people, who so little resemble themselves."

To form a judgment of the character from which they acted in the field, and
in their competitions with neighbouring nations, we must observe them at
home. They were bold and fearless in their civil dissentions; ready to
proceed to extremities, and to carry their debates to the decision of
force. Individuals stood distinguished by their personal spirit and vigour,
not by the valuation of their estates, or the rank of their birth. They had
a personal elevation founded on the sense of equality, not of precedence.
The general of one campaign was, during the next, a private soldier, and
served in the ranks. They were solicitous to acquire bodily strength;
because, in the use of their weapons, battles were a trial of the soldier's
strength, as well as of the leader's conduct. The remains of their statuary
shows a manly grace, an air of simplicity and ease, which being frequent in
nature, were familiar to the artist. The mind, perhaps, borrowed a
confidence and force, from the vigour and address of the body; their
eloquence and style bore a resemblance to the carriage of the person. The
understanding was chiefly cultivated in the practice of affairs. The most
respectable personages were obliged to mix with the crowd, and derived
their degree of ascendancy only from their conduct, their eloquence, and
personal vigour. They had no forms of expression, to mark a ceremonious and
guarded respect. Invective proceeded to railing, and the grossest terms
were often employed by the most admired and accomplished orators.
Quarrelling had no rules but the immediate dictates of passion, which ended
in words of reproach, in violence and blows. They fortunately went always
unarmed; and to wear a sword in times of peace, was among them the mark of
a barbarian. When they took arms in the divisions of faction, the
prevailing party supported itself by expelling their opponents, by
proscriptions, and bloodshed. The usurper endeavoured to maintain his
station by the most violent and prompt executions. He was opposed, in his
turn, by conspiracies and assassinations, in which the most respectable
citizens were ready to use the dagger.

Such was the character of their spirit, in its occasional ferments at home;
and it burst commonly with a suitable violence and force, against their
foreign rivals and enemies. The amiable plea of humanity was little
regarded by them in the operations of war. Cities were razed, or enslaved;
the captive sold, mutilated, or condemned to die.

When viewed on this side, the ancient nations have but a sorry plea for
esteem with the inhabitants of modern Europe, who profess to carry the
civilities of peace into the practice of war; and who value the praise of
indiscriminate lenity at a higher rate than even that of military prowess,
or the love of their country. And yet they have, in other respects, merited
and obtained our praise. Their ardent attachment to their country; their
contempt of suffering, and of death, in its cause; their manly
apprehensions of personal independence, which rendered every individual,
even under tottering establishments and imperfect laws, the guardian of
freedom to his fellow citizens; their activity of mind; in short, their
penetration, the ability of their conduct, and force of their spirit, have
gained them the first rank among nations.

If their animosities were great, their affections were proportionate; they,
perhaps, loved, where we only pity; and were stern and inexorable, where we
are not merciful, but only irresolute. After all, the merit of a man is
determined by his candour and generosity to his associates, by his zeal for
national objects, and by his vigour in maintaining political rights; not by
moderation alone, which proceeds frequently from indifference to national
and public interest, and which serves to relax the nerves on which the
force of a private, as well as a public, character depends.

When under the Macedonian and the Roman monarchies, a nation came to be
considered as, the estate of a prince, and the inhabitants of a province to
be regarded as a lucrative property, the possession of territory, not the
destruction of its people, became the object of conquest. The pacific
citizen had little concern in the quarrels of sovereigns; the violence of
the soldier was restrained by discipline. He fought, because he was taught
to carry arms, and to obey: he sometimes shed unnecessary blood in the
ardour of victory; but, except in the case of civil wars, had no passions
to excite his animosity beyond the field and the day of battle. Leaders
judged of the objects of an enterprise, and they arrested the sword when
these were obtained.

In the modern nations of Europe, where extent of territory admits of a
distinction between the state and its subjects, we are accustomed to think
of the individual with compassion, seldom of the public with zeal. We have
improved on the laws of war, and on the lenitives which have been devised
to soften its rigours; we have mingled politeness with the use of the
sword; we have learned to make war under the stipulations of treaties and
cartels, and trust to the faith of an enemy whose ruin we meditate. Glory
is more successfully obtained by saving and protecting, than by destroying
the vanquished: and the most amiable of all objects is, in appearance,
attained; the employing of force, only for the obtaining of justice, and
for the preservation of national rights.

This is, perhaps, the principal characteristic, on which, among modern
nations, we bestow the epithets of _civilized_ or of _polished_.
But we have seen, that it did not accompany the progress of sorts among the
Greeks, nor keep pace with the advancement of policy, literature, and
philosophy. It did not await the returns of learning and politeness among
the moderns; it was found in an early period of our history, and
distinguished, perhaps more than at present; the manners of the ages
otherwise rude and undisciplined. A king of France, prisoner in the hands
of his enemies, was treated, about four hundred years ago, with as much
distinction and courtesy as a crowned head, in the like circumstances,
could possibly expect in this age of politeness. [Footnote: Hume's History
of England.] The prince of Conde, defeated and taken in the battle of
Dreux, slept at night in the same bed with his enemy the duke of
Guise. [Footnote: Davila.]

If the moral of popular traditions, and the taste of fabulous legends,
which are the productions or entertainment of particular ages, are likewise
sure indications of their notions and characters, we may presume, that the
foundation of what is now held to be the law of war, and, of nations, was
laid in the manners of Europe, together with the sentiments which are
expressed in the tales of chivalry, and of gallantry. Our system of war
differs not more from that of the Greeks, than the favourite characters of
our early romance differed from those of the Iliad, and of every ancient
poem. The hero of the Greek fable, endued with superior force, courage, and
address, takes every advantage of an enemy, to kill with safety to himself;
and, actuated by a desire of spoil, or by a principle of revenge, is never
stayed in his progress by interruptions of remorse or compassion. Homer,
who, of all poets, knew best how to exhibit the emotions of a vehement
affection, seldom attempts to excite commiseration. Hector falls unpitied,
and his body is insulted by every Greek.

Our modern fable, or romance, on the contrary, generally couples an object
of pity, weak, oppressed, and defenceless, with an object of admiration,
brave, generous, and victorious; or sends the hero abroad in search of mere
danger, and of occasions to prove his valour. Charged with the maxims of a
refined courtesy, to be observed even towards an enemy; and of a scrupulous
honour, which will not suffer him to take any advantages by artifice or
surprise; indifferent to spoil, he contends only for renown, and employs
his valour to rescue the distressed, and to protect the innocent. If
victorious, he is made to rise above nature as much in his generosity and
gentleness, as in his military prowess and valour.

It may be difficult, upon stating this contrast between the system of
ancient and modern fable, to assign, among nations, equally rude, equally
addicted to war, and equally fond of military glory, the origin of
apprehensions on the point of honour, so different, and so opposite. The
hero of Greek poetry proceeds on the maxims of animosity and hostile
passion. His maxims in war are like those which prevail in the woods of
America. They require him to be brave, but they allow him to practise
against his enemy every sort of deception. The hero of modern romance
professes a contempt of stratagem, as well as of danger, and unites in the
same person, characters and dispositions seemingly opposite; ferocity with
gentleness, and the love of blood with sentiments of tenderness and pity.

The system of chivalry, when completely formed, proceeded on a marvellous
respect and veneration to the fair sex, on forms of combat established, and
on a supposed junction of the heroic and sanctified character. The
formalities of the duel, and a kind of judicial challenge, were known among
the ancient Celtic nations of Europe. [Footnote: Liv., lib. 28. c. 21.] The
Germans, even in their native forests, paid a kind of devotion to the
female sex. The Christian religion enjoined meekness and compassion to
barbarous ages. These different principles combined together, may have
served as the foundation of a system, in which courage was directed by
religion and love, and the warlike and gentle were united together. When
the characters of the hero and the saint were mixed, the mild spirit of
Christianity, though often turned into venom by the bigotry of opposite
parties, though it could not always subdue the ferocity of the warrior, nor
suppress the admiration of courage and force, may have confirmed the
apprehensions of men in what was to be held meritorious and splendid in the
conduct of their quarrels.

In the early and traditionary history of the Greeks and the Romans, rapes
were assigned as the most frequent occasions of war; and the sexes were, no
doubt, at all times, equally important to each other. The enthusiasm of
love is most powerful in the neighbourhood of Asia and Africa; and beauty,
as a possession, was probably more valued by the countrymen of Homer, than
it was by those of Amadis de Gaul, or by the authors of modern gallantry.
"What wonder," says the old Priam, when Helen appeared, "that nations
should contend for the possession of so much beauty?" This beauty, indeed,
was possessed by different lovers; a subject on which the modern hero had
many refinements, and seemed to soar in the clouds. He adored at a
respectful distance, and employed his valour to captivate the admiration,
not to gain the possession of his mistress. A cold and unconquerable
chastity was set up, as an idol to be worshipped, in the toils, the
sufferings, and the combats of the hero and the lover.

The feudal establishments, by the high rank to which they elevated certain
families, no doubt, greatly favoured this romantic system. Not only the
lustre of a noble descent, but the stately castle beset with battlements
and towers, served to inflame the imagination, and to create a veneration
for the daughter and the sister of gallant chiefs, whose point of honour it
was to be inaccessible and chaste, and who could perceive no merit but that
of the high minded and the brave, nor be approached in any other ascents
than those of gentleness and respect.

What was originally singular in these apprehensions, was, by the writer of
romance, turned to extravagance; and under the title of chivalry was
offered as a model of conduct, even in common affairs: the fortunes of
nations were directed by gallantry; and human life, on its greatest
occasions, became a scene of affectation and folly. Warriors went forth to
realize the legends they had studied; princes and leaders of armies
dedicated their most serious exploits to a real or to a fancied mistress.

But whatever was the origin of notions, often so lofty and so ridiculous,
we cannot doubt of their lasting effects on our manners. The point of
honour, the prevalence of gallantry in our conversations, and on our
theatres, many of the opinions which the vulgar apply even to the conduct
of war; their notion, that the leader of an army, being offered battle upon
equal terms, is dishonoured by declining it, are undoubtedly remains of
this antiquated system: and chivalry, uniting with the genius of our
policy, has probably suggested those peculiarities in the law of nations,
by which modern states are distinguished from the ancient. And if our rule
in measuring degrees of politeness and civilization is to be taken from
hence, or from the advancement of commercial arts, we shall be found to
have greatly excelled any of the celebrated nations of antiquity.


* * * * *



* * * * *



No nation is so unfortunate as to think itself inferior to the rest of
mankind: few are even willing to put up with the claim to equality. The
greater part having chosen themselves, as at once, the judges and the
models of what is excellent in their kind, are first in their own opinion,
and give to others consideration or eminence, so far only as they approach
to their own condition. One nation is vain of the personal character, or of
the learning of a few of its members; another, of its policy, its wealth,
its tradesmen, its gardens, and its buildings; and they who have nothing to
boast are vain, because they are ignorant. The Russians, before the reign
of Peter the Great, thought themselves possessed of every national honour,
and held the _Nemei_, or _dumb nations_, the name which they
bestowed on then western neighbours of Europe, in a proportional degree of
contempt. [Footnote: Strahlenberg.] The map of the world, in China, was a
square plate, the greater part of which was occupied by the provinces of
this great empire, leaving on its skirts a few obscure corners, into which
the wretched remainder of mankind were supposed to be driven. "If you have
not the use of our letters, nor the knowledge of our books," said the
learned Chinese to the European missionary, "what literature, or what
science can you have?" [Footnote: Gemelli Carceri.]

The term _polished_, if we may judge from its etymology, originally
referred to the state of nations in respect to their laws and government;
and men civilized were men practised in the duty of citizens. In its later
applications, it refers no less to the proficiency of nations in the
liberal and mechanical arts, in literature, and in commerce; and men
civilized are scholars, men of fashion and traders. But whatever may be its
application, it appears, that if there were a name still more respectable
than this, every nation, even the most barbarous, or the most corrupted,
would assume it; and bestow its reverse where they conceived a dislike, or
apprehended a difference. The names of _alien_ or _foreigner_,
are seldom pronounced without some degree of intended reproach. That of
_barbarian_, in use with one arrogant people, and that of
_gentile_, with another, only served to distinguish the stranger,
whose language and pedigree differed from theirs.

Even where we pretend to found our opinions on reason, and to justify our
preference of one nation to another, we frequently bestow our esteem on
circumstances which do not relate to national character, and which have
little tendency to promote the welfare of mankind. Conquest, or great
extent of territory, however peopled, and great wealth, however distributed
or employed, are titles upon which we indulge our own, and the vanity of
other nations, as we do that of private men on the score of their fortunes
and honours. We even sometimes contend, whose capital is the most
overgrown; whose king has the most absolute power; and at whose court the
bread of the subject is consumed in the most senseless riot. These indeed
are the notions of vulgar minds; but it is impossible to determine, how far
the notions of vulgar minds may lead mankind.

There have certainly, been very few examples of states, who have, by arts
of policy, improved the original dispositions of human nature, or
endeavoured, by wise and effectual precautions, to prevent its corruption.
Affection, and force of mind, which are the band and the strength of
communities, were the inspiration of God, and original attributes in the
nature of man. The wisest policy of nations, except in a few instances, has
tended, we may suspect, rather to maintain the peace of society, and to
repress the external effects of bad passions, than to strengthen the
disposition of the heart itself to justice and goodness. It has tended, by
introducing a variety of arts, to exercise the ingenuity of men, and by
engaging them in a variety of pursuits, inquiries, and studies, to inform,
but frequently to corrupt the mind. It has tended to furnish matter of
distinction and vanity; and by incumbering the individual with new subjects
of personal care, to substitute the anxiety he entertains for a separate
fortune, instead of the confidence and the affection with which he should
unite with his fellow creatures, for their joint preservation.

Whether this suspicion be just or no, we are come to point at circumstances
tending to verify, or to disprove it: and if to understand the real
felicity of nations be of importance, it is certainly so likewise, to know
what are those weaknesses, and those vices, by which men not only mar this
felicity, but in one age forfeit all the external advantages they had
gained in a former.

The wealth, the aggrandizement, and power of nations, are commonly the
effects of virtue; the loss of these advantages is often a consequence of
vice. Were we to suppose men to have succeeded in the discovery and
application of every art by which states are preserved and governed; to
have attained, by efforts of wisdom and magnanimity, the admired
establishments and advantages of a civilized and flourishing people; the
subsequent part of their history, containing, according to vulgar
apprehension, a full display of those fruits in maturity, of which they had
till then carried only the blossom, and the first formation, should, still
more than the former, merit our attention, and excite our admiration.

The event, however, has not corresponded to this expectation. The virtues
of men have shone most during their struggles, not after the attainment of
their ends. Those ends themselves, though attained by virtue, are
frequently the causes of corruption and vice. Mankind, in aspiring to
national felicity, have substituted arts which increase their riches,
instead of those which improve their nature. They have entertained
admiration of themselves, under the titles of _civilized_ and of
_polished_, where they should have been affected with shame; and even
where they have, for a while, acted on maxims tending to raise, to
invigorate, and to preserve the national character, they have, sooner or
later, been diverted from their object, and fallen a prey to misfortune, or
to the neglects which prosperity itself had encouraged.

War, which furnishes mankind with a principal occupation of their restless
spirit, serves, by the variety of its events, to diversify their fortunes.
While it opens to one tribe or society, the way to eminence, and leads to
dominion, it brings another to subjection, and closes the scene of their
national efforts. The celebrated rivalship of Carthage and Rome was, in
both parties, the natural exercise of an ambitious spirit, impatient of
opposition, or even of equality. The conduct and the fortune of leaders
held the balance for some time in suspense; but to which ever side it had
inclined, a great nation was to fall; a seat of empire, and of policy, was
to be removed from its place; and it was then to be determined, whether the
Syriac or the Latin should contain the erudition that was, in future ages,
to occupy the studies of the learned.

States have been thus conquered from abroad, before they gave any signs of
internal decay, even in the midst of prosperity, and in the period of their
greatest ardour for national objects. Athens, in the height of her
ambition, and of her glory, received a fatal wound, in striving to extend
her maritime power beyond the Grecian seas. And nations of every
description, formidable by their rude ferocity, respected for their
discipline and military experience, when advancing, as well as when
declining, in their strength, fell a prey by turns to the ambition and
arrogant spirit of the Romans. Such examples may excite and alarm the
jealousy and caution of states; the presence of similar dangers may
exercise the talents of politicians and statesmen; but mere reverses of
fortune are the common materials of history, and must long since have
ceased to create our surprise.

Did we find, that nations advancing from small beginnings, and arrived at
the possession of arts which lead to dominion, became secure of their
advantages, in proportion as they were qualified to gain them; that they
proceeded in a course of uninterrupted felicity, till they were broke by
external calamities; and that they retained their force, till a more
fortunate or vigorous power arose to depress them; the subject in
speculation could not be attended with many difficulties, nor give rise to
many reflections. But when we observe, among many nations, a kind of
spontaneous return to obscurity and weakness; when, in spite of perpetual
admonitions of the danger they run, they suffer themselves to be subdued,
in one period, by powers which could not have entered into competition with
them in a former, and by forces which they had often baffled and despised,
the subject becomes more curious, and its explanation more difficult.

(The fact itself is known in a variety of different examples. The empire of
Asia was, more than once, transferred from the greater to the inferior
power. The states of Greece, once so warlike, felt a relaxation of their
vigour, and yielded the ascendant they had disputed with the monarchs of
the east, to the forces of an obscure principality, become formidable in a
few years, and raised to eminence under the conduct of a single man. The
Roman empire, which stood alone for ages, which had brought every rival
under subjection, and saw no power from whom a competition could be feared,
sunk at last before an artless and contemptible enemy. Abandoned to inroad,
to pillage, and at last to conquest, on her frontier, she decayed in all
her extremities, and shrunk on every side. Her territory was dismembered,
and whole provinces gave way, like branches fallen down with age, not
violently torn by superior force. The spirit with which Marius had baffled
and repelled the attacks of barbarians in a former age, the civil and
military force with which the consul and his legions had extended this
empire, were now no more. The Roman greatness, doomed to sink as it rose,
by slow degrees, was impaired in every encounter. It was reduced to its
original dimensions, within the compass of a single city; and depending for
its preservation on the fortune of a siege, it was extinguished at a blow;
and the brand, which had filled the world with its flames, sunk like a
taper in the socket.

Such appearances have given rise to a general apprehension, that the
progress of societies to what we call the heights of national greatness, is
not more natural, than their return to weakness and obscurity is necessary
and unavoidable. The images of youth, and of old age, are applied to
nations; and communities, like single men, are supposed to have a period of
life, and a length of thread, which is spun by the fates in one part
uniform and strong, in another weakened and shattered by use; to be cut,
when the destined era is come, and to make way for a renewal of the emblem
in the case of those who arise in succession. Carthage being so much older
than Rome, had felt her decay, says Polybius, so much the sooner; and the
survivor too, he foresaw, carried in her bosom the seeds of mortality.

The image indeed is apposite, and the history of mankind renders the
application familiar. But it must be obvious, that the case of nations, and
that of individuals, are very different. The human frame has a general
course: it has in every individual a frail contexture and limited duration;
it is worn by exercise, and exhausted by a repetition of its functions: but
in a society, whose constituent members are renewed in every generation,
where the race seems to enjoy perpetual youth, and accumulating advantages,
we cannot, by any parity of reason, expect to find imbecilities connected
with mere age and length of days.

The subject is not new, and reflections will crowd upon every reader. The
notions, in the mean time, which we entertain, even in speculation, upon a
subject so important, cannot be entirely fruitless to mankind; and however
little the labours of the speculative may influence the conduct of men, one
of the most pardonable errors a writer can commit, is to believe that he is
about to do a great deal of good. But, leaving the care of effects to
others, we proceed to consider the grounds of inconstancy among mankind,
the sources of internal decay, and the ruinous corruptions to which nations
are liable, in the supposed condition of accomplished civility.



From what we have already observed on the general characteristics of human
nature, it has appeared that man is not made for repose. In him every
amiable and respectable quality, is an active power, and every subject of
commendation an effort. If his errors and his crimes are the movements of
an active being, his virtues and his happiness consist likewise in the
employment of his mind; and all the lustre which he casts around him, to
captivate or engage the attention of his fellow creatures, like the flame
of a meteor, shines only while his motion continues; the moments of rest
and obscurity are the same. We know, that the tasks assigned him frequently
may exceed, as well as come short of, his powers; that he may be agitated
too much, as well as too little; but cannot ascertain a precise medium
between the situations in which he would be harassed, and those in which he
would fall into languor. We know that he may be employed on a great variety
of subjects, which occupy different passions; and that, in consequence of
habit, he becomes reconciled to very different scenes. All we can determine
in general is, that whatever be the subjects with which he is engaged, the
frame of his nature requires him to be occupied, and his happiness requires
him to be just.

We are now to inquire, why nations cease to be eminent; and why societies
which have drawn the attention of mankind by great examples of magnanimity,
conduct, and national success, should sink from the height of their
honours, and yield, in one age, the palm which they had won in a former.
Many reasons will probably occur. One may be taken from the fickleness and
inconstancy of mankind, who become tired of their pursuits and exertions,
even while the occasions that gave rise to those pursuits; in some measure,
continue; another, from the change of situations, and the removal of
objects which served to excite their spirit.

The public safety, and the relative interests of states; political
establishments, the pretensions of party, commerce, and arts, are subjects
which engage the attention of nations. The advantages gained in some of
these particulars, determine the degree of national prosperity. The ardour
and vigour with which they are at any one time pursued, is the measure of a
national spirit. When those objects cease to animate, nations may be said
to languish; when they are during a considerable time neglected, states
must decline, and their people degenerate.

In the most forward, enterprising, inventive, and industrious nations, this
spirit is fluctuating; and they who continue longest to gain advantages, or
to preserve them, have periods of remissness, as well as of ardour. The
desire of public safety, is, at all times, a powerful motive of conduct;
but it operates most when combined with occasional passions, when
provocations inflame, when successes encourage, or mortifications

A whole people, like the individuals of whom they are composed, act under
the influence of temporary humours, sanguine hopes, or vehement
animosities. They are disposed, at one time, to enter on national struggles
with vehemence; at another, to drop them from mere lassitude and disgust.
In their civil debates and contentions at home, they are occasionally
ardent or remiss. Epidemical passions arise or subside on trivial as well
as important grounds. Parties are ready, at one time, to take their names
and the pretence of their oppositions, from mere caprice or accident; at
another time, they suffer the most serious occasions to pass in silence. If
a vein of literary genius be casually opened, or a new subject of
disquisition be started, real or pretended discoveries suddenly multiply,
and every conversation is inquisitive and animated. If a new source of
wealth be found, or a prospect of conquest be offered, the imaginations of
men are inflamed, and whole quarters of the globe are suddenly engaged in
ruinous or in successful adventures.

Could we recall the spirit that was exerted, or enter into the views that
were entertained, by our ancestors, when they burst, like a deluge, from
their ancient seats, and poured into the Roman empire, we should probably,
after their first success at least, find a ferment in the minds of men, for
which no attempt was too arduous, no difficulties insurmountable.

The subsequent ages of enterprise in Europe, were those in which the alarm
of enthusiasm was rung, and the followers of the cross invaded the east, to
plunder a country, and to recover a sepulchre; those in which the people in
different states contended for freedom, and assaulted the fabric of civil
or religious usurpation; that in which, having found means to cross the
Atlantic, and to double the Cape of Good Hope, the inhabitants of one half
the world were let loose on the other, and parties from every quarter,
wading in blood, and at the expense of every crime, and of every danger,
traversed the earth in search of gold.

Even the weak and the remiss are roused to enterprise, by the contagion of
such remarkable ages; and states, which have not in their form the
principles of a continued exertion, either favourable or adverse to the
welfare of mankind, may have paroxysms of ardour, and a temporary
appearance of national vigour. In the case of such nations, indeed, the
returns of moderation are but a relapse to obscurity, and the presumption
of one age is turned to dejection in that which succeeds.

But in the case of states that are fortunate in, their domestic policy,
even madness itself may, in the result of violent convulsions, subside into
wisdom; and a people return to their ordinary mood, cured of their follies,
and wiser by experience; or, with talents improved, in conducting the very
scenes which frenzy had opened, they may then appear best qualified to
pursue with success the object of nations. Like the ancient republics,
immediately after some alarming sedition, or like the kingdom of Great
Britain, at the close of its civil wars, they retain the spirit of activity
which was recently awakened, and are equally vigorous in every pursuit,
whether of policy, learning, or arts. From having appeared on the brink of
ruin, they pass to the greatest prosperity.)

Men engage in pursuits with degrees of ardour not proportioned to the
importance of their object. When they are stated in opposition, or joined
in confederacy, they only wish for pretences to act. They forget, in the
heat of their animosities, the subject of their controversy; or they seek,
in their formal reasonings concerning it, only a disguise for their
passions. When the heart is inflamed, no consideration can repress its
ardour; when its fervour subsides, no reasoning can excite, and no
eloquence awaken its former emotions.

The continuance of emulation among states must depend on the degree of
equality by which their forces are balanced; or on the incentives by which
either party, or all, are urged to continue their struggles. Long
intermissions of war, suffer, equally in every period of civil society, the
military spirit to languish. (The reduction of Athens by Lysander, struck a
fatal blow at the institutions of Lycurgus; and the quiet possession of
Italy, happily perhaps for mankind, had almost put an end to the military
progress of the Romans. After some years repose, Hannibal found Italy
unprepared for his onset, and the Romans in a disposition likely to drop,
on the banks of the Po, that martial ambition, which being roused by the
sense of a new danger, afterwards, carried them to the Euphrates and the

States, even distinguished for military prowess, sometimes lay down their
arms from lassitude, and are weary of fruitless contentions; but if they
maintain the station of independent communities, they will have frequent
occasions to recall, and to exert their vigour. Even under popular
governments, men sometimes drop the consideration of their political
rights, and appear at times remiss or supine; but if they have reserved the
power to defend themselves, the intermission of its exercise cannot be of
long duration. Political rights, when neglected, are always invaded; and
alarms from this quarter must frequently come to renew the attention of
parties. The love of learning, and of arts, may change its pursuits, or
droop for a season; but while men are possessed of freedom, and while the
exercises of ingenuity are not superseded, the public may proceed, at
different times, with unequal fervour; but its progress is seldom
altogether discontinued, or the advantages gained in one age are seldom
entirely lost to the following. If we would find the causes of final
corruption, we must examine those revolutions of state that remove, or
withhold, the objects of every ingenious study or liberal pursuit; that
deprive the citizen of occasions to act as the member of a public; that
crush his spirit; that debase his sentiments, and disqualify his mind for



Improving nations, in the course of their advancement, have to struggle
with foreign enemies, to whom they bear an extreme animosity, and with
whom, in many conflicts, they contend for their existence as a people. In
certain periods, too, they feel in their domestic policy inconveniencies
and grievances, which beget an eager impatience; and they apprehend
reformations and new establishments, from which they have sanguine hopes of
national happiness. In early ages, every art is imperfect, and susceptible
of many improvements. The first principles of every science are yet secrets
to be discovered, and to be successively published with applause and

We may fancy to ourselves, that in ages of progress, the human race, like
scouts gone abroad on the discovery of fertile lands, having the world open
before them, are presented at every step with the appearance of novelty.
They enter on every new ground with expectation and joy: they engage in
every enterprise with the ardour of men, who believe they are going to
arrive at national felicity, and permanent glory; and forget past
disappointments amidst the hopes of future success. From mere ignorance,
rude minds are intoxicated with every passion; and, partial to their own
condition, and to their own pursuits, they think that every scene is
inferior to that in which they are placed. Roused alike by success and by
misfortune, they are sanguine, ardent, and precipitant; and leave, to the
more knowing ages which succeed them, monuments of imperfect skill, and of
rude execution of every art; but they leave likewise the marks of a
vigorous and ardent spirit, which their successors are not always qualified
to sustain, or to imitate.

This may be admitted, perhaps, as a fair description of prosperous
societies, at least during certain periods of their progress. The spirit
with which they advance may be unequal in different ages, and may have its
paroxysms and intermissions, arising from the inconstancy of human
passions, and from the casual appearance or removal of occasions that
excite them. But does this spirit, which for a time continues to carry on
the project of civil and commercial arts, find a natural pause in the
termination of its own pursuits? May the business of civil society be
accomplished, and may the occasion of farther exertion be removed? Do
continued disappointments reduce sanguine hopes, and familiarity with
objects blunt the edge of novelty? Does experience itself cool the ardour
of the mind? May the society be again compared to the individual? And may
it be suspected, although the vigour of a nation, like that of a natural
body, does not waste by a physical decay, that yet it may sicken for want
of exercise, and die in the close of its own exertions? May societies, in
the completion of all their designs, like men in years, who disregard the
amusements, and are insensible to the passions of youth, become cold and
indifferent to objects that used to animate in a ruder age? And may a
polished community be compared to a man who, having executed his plan,
built his house, and made his settlement; who having, in short, exhausted
the charms of every subject, and wasted all his ardour, sinks into languor
and listless indifference? If so, we have found at least another simile to
our purpose. But it is probable, that here too the resemblance is
imperfect; and the inference that would follow, like that of most arguments
drawn from analogy, tends rather to amuse the fancy, than to give any real
information on the subject to which it refers.

The materials of human art are never entirely exhausted, and the
applications of industry are never at an end. The national ardour is not,
at any particular time, proportioned to the occasion there is for activity;
nor the curiosity of the learned to the extent of subject that remains to
be studied.

The ignorant and the artless, to whom objects of science are new, and whose
manner of life is most simple, instead of being more active and more
curious, are commonly more quiescent, and less inquisitive, than those who
are best furnished with knowledge and the conveniencies of life. When we
compare the particulars which occupy mankind in the beginning and in the
advanced age of commercial arts, these particulars will be found greatly
multiplied and enlarged in the last. The questions we have put, however,
deserve to be answered; and if, in the result of commerce, we do not find
the objects of human pursuit removed, or greatly diminished, we may find
them at least changed; and in estimating the national spirit, we may find
a negligence in one part, but ill compensated by the growing attention
which is paid to another.

It is true, in general, that in all our pursuits, there is a termination of
trouble, and a point of repose to which we aspire. We would remove this
inconvenience, or gain that advantage, that our labours may cease. When I
have conquered Italy and Sicily, says Pyrrhus, I shall then enjoy my
repose. This termination is proposed in our national, as well as in our
personal exertions; and, in spite of frequent experience to the contrary,
is considered, at a distance, as the height of felicity. But nature has
wisely, in most particulars, baffled our project; and placed no where
within our reach this visionary blessing of absolute ease. The attainment
of one end is but the beginning of a new pursuit; and the discovery of one
art is but a prolongation of the thread by which we are conducted to
further inquiries, and while we hope to escape from the labyrinth, are led
to its most intricate paths.

Among the occupations that may be enumerated, as tending to exercise the
invention, and to cultivate the talents of men, are the pursuits of
accommodation and wealth, including all the different contrivances which
serve to increase manufactures, and to perfect the mechanical arts. But it
must be owned, that as the materials of commerce may continue to be
accumulated without any determinate limit, so the arts which are applied to
improve them, may admit of perpetual refinements. No measure of fortune, or
degree of skill, is found to diminish the supposed necessities of human
life; refinement and plenty foster new desires, while they furnish the
means, or practise the methods, to gratify them.

In the result of commercial arts, inequalities of fortune are greatly
increased, and the majority, of every people are obliged by necessity, or
at least strongly incited by ambition and avarice; to employ every talent
they possess. After a history of some thousand years employed in
manufacture and commerce, the inhabitants of China are still the most
laborious and industrious of any people on earth.

Some part of this observation may be extended to the elegant and literary
arts. They too have their materials which cannot be exhausted, and proceed
from desires which cannot be satiated. But the respect paid to literary
merit is fluctuating, and matter of transient fashion. When learned
productions accumulate, the acquisition of knowledge occupies the time that
might be bestowed on invention. The object of mere learning is attained
with moderate or inferior talents, and the growing list of pretenders
diminishes the lustre of the few who are eminent. When we only mean to
learn what others have taught, it is probable that even our knowledge will
be less than that of our masters. Great names continue to be repeated with
admiration, after we have ceased to examine the foundations of our praise;
and new pretenders are rejected, not because they fall short of their
predecessors, but because they do not excel them; or because in reality we
have, without examination, taken for granted the merit of the first, and
cannot judge of either.

After libraries are furnished, and every path of ingenuity is occupied, we
are, in proportion to our admiration of what is already done, prepossessed
against farther attempts. We become students and admirers, instead of
rivals; and substitute the knowledge of books, instead of the inquisitive
or animated spirit in which they were written.

The commercial and the lucrative arts may continue to prosper, but they
gain an ascendant at the expense of other pursuits. The desire of profit
stifles the love of perfection. Interest cools the imagination, and hardens
the heart; and, recommending employments in proportion as they are
lucrative, and certain in their gains, it drives ingenuity, and ambition
itself, to the counter and the workshop. But, apart from these
considerations, the separation of professions, while it seems to promise
improvement of skill, and is actually the cause why the productions of
every art become more perfect as commerce advances; yet, in its termination
and ultimate effects, serves, in some measure, to break the bands of
society, to substitute mere forms and rules of art in place of ingenuity,
and to withdraw individuals from the common scene of occupation, on which
the sentiments of the heart, and the mind, are most happily employed.

Under the _distinction_ of callings, by which the members of polished
society are separated from each other, every individual is supposed to
possess his species of talent, or his peculiar skill, in which the others
are confessedly ignorant; and society is made to consist of parts, of which
none is animated with the spirit that ought to prevail in the conduct of
nations. "We see in the same persons," said Pericles, "an equal attention
to private and to public affairs; and in men who have turned to separate
professions, a competent knowledge of what relates to the community; for we
alone consider those who are inattentive to the state, as perfectly
insignificant." This encomium on the Athenians was probably offered under
an apprehension, that the contrary was likely to be charged by their
enemies, or might soon take place. It happened, accordingly, that the
business of state, as well as of war, came to be worse administered at
Athens, when these, as well as other applications, became the object of
separate professions; and the history of this people abundantly shewed,
that men ceased to be citizens, even to be good poets and orators, in
proportion as they came to be distinguished by the profession of these, and
other separate crafts.

Animals less honoured than we, have sagacity enough to procure their food,
and to find the means of their solitary pleasures; but it is reserved for
man to consult, to persuade, to oppose, to kindle in the society of his
fellow creatures, and to lose the sense of his personal interest or safety,
in the ardour of his friendships and his oppositions.

When we are involved in any of the divisions into which mankind are
separated under the denominations of a country, a tribe, or an order of men
any way affected by common interests, and guided by communicating passions,
the mind recognises its natural station; the sentiments of the heart, and
the talents of the understanding, find their natural exercise. Wisdom,
vigilance, fidelity, and fortitude, are the characters requisite in such a
scene, and the qualities which it tends to improve.

In simple or barbarous ages, when nations are weak, and beset with enemies,
the love of a country, of a party, or a faction, are the same. The public
is a knot of friends, and its enemies are the rest of mankind. Death, or
slavery, are the ordinary evils which they are concerned to ward off;
victory and dominion, the objects to which they aspire. Under the sense of
what they may suffer from foreign invasions, it is one object, in every
prosperous society, to increase its force, and to extend its limits. In
proportion as this object is gained, security increases. They who possess
the interior districts, remote from the frontier, are unused to alarms from
abroad. They who are placed on the extremities, remote from the seats of
government, are unused to hear of political interests; and the public
becomes an object perhaps too extensive for the conceptions of either. They
enjoy the protection of its laws, or of its armies; and they boast of its
splendour, and its power; but the glowing sentiments of public affection,
which, in small states, mingle with the tenderness of the parent and the
lover, of the friend and the companion, merely by having their object
enlarged, lose great part of their force.

The manners of rude nations require to be reformed. Their foreign quarrels,
and domestic dissentions, are the operations of extreme and sanguinary
passions. A state of greater tranquillity hath many happy effects. But if
nations pursue the plan of enlargement and pacification, till their members
can no longer apprehend the common ties of society, nor be engaged by
affection in the cause of their country, they must err on the opposite
side, and by leaving too little to agitate the spirits of men, bring on
ages of languor, if not of decay.

The members of a community may, in this manner, like the inhabitants of a
conquered province, be made to lose the sense of every connection, but that
of kindred or neighbourhood; and have no common affairs to transact, but
those of trade: connections, indeed, or transactions, in which probity and
friendship may still take place; but in which the national spirit, whose
ebbs and flows we are now considering, cannot be exerted.

What we observe, however, on the tendency of enlargement to loosen the
bands of political union, cannot be applied to nations who, being
originally narrow, never greatly extended their limits; nor to those who,
in a rude state, had already the extension of a great kingdom.

In territories of considerable extent, subject to one government, and
possessed of freedom, the national union, in rude ages, is extremely
imperfect. Every district forms a separate party; and the descendants of
different families are opposed to each other, under the denomination of
tribes or of clans: they are seldom brought to act with a steady concert;
their feuds and animosities give more frequently the appearance of so many
nations at war, than of a people united by connections of policy. They
acquire a spirit, however, in their private divisions, and in the midst of
a disorder, otherwise hurtful, of which the force, on many occasions,
redounds to the power of the state.

Whatever be the national extent, civil order, and regular government, are
advantages of the greatest importance; but it does not follow, that every
arrangement made to obtain these ends, and which may, in the making,
exercise and cultivate the best qualities of men, is therefore of a nature
to produce permanent effects, and to secure the preservation of that
national spirit from which it arose.

We have reason to dread the political refinements of ordinary men, when we
consider that repose, or inaction itself, is in a great measure their
object; and that they would frequently model their governments, not merely
to prevent injustice and error, but to prevent agitation and bustle; and by
the barriers they raise against the evil actions of men, would prevent them
from acting at all. Every dispute of a free people, in the opinion of such
politicians, amounts to disorder, and a breach of the national peace. What
heart burnings? What delay to affairs? What want of secrecy and despatch?
What defect of police? Men of superior genius sometimes seem to imagine,
that the vulgar have no title to act, or to think. A great prince is
pleased to ridicule the precaution by which judges in a free country are


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