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Title: Essays
Author: Hume, David, 1711-1776
Language: English
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*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Essays" ***




_With Biographical Introduction_


Hannaford Bennett


















Biographical Introduction

The material facts in Hume's life are to be found in the autobiography
which he prefixed to his _History of England_. _My Own Life_, as he
calls it, is but a brief exposition, but it is sufficient for its
purpose, and the longer biographies of him do little more than amplify
the information which he gives us himself. The Humes, it appears, were a
remote branch of the family of Lord Hume of Douglas. Hume's father was
Joseph Hume, of Ninewells, a minor Scotch laird, who died when his son
was an infant. David Hume was born at Edinburgh on April 26th, 1711,
during a visit of his parents to the Scotch capital. Hume tells us that
his father passed for a man of parts, and that his mother, who herself
came of good Scottish family, "was a woman of singular merit; though
young and handsome, she devoted herself entirely to the rearing and
educating of her children." At school Hume won no special distinction.
He matriculated in the class of Greek at the Edinburgh University when
he was twelve years old, and, he says "passed through the ordinary
course of education with success"; but "our college education in
Scotland," he remarks in one of his works, "extending little further
than the languages, ends commonly when we are about fourteen or fifteen
years of age." During his youth, Mrs. Hume does not appear to have
maintained any too flattering opinion of her son's abilities; she
considered him a good-natured but "uncommon weak-minded" creature.
Possibly her judgment underwent a change in course of time, since she
lived to see the beginnings of his literary fame; but his worldly
success was long in the making, and he was a middle-aged man before his
meagre fortune was converted into anything like a decent maintenance.

It may have been Hume's apparent vacillation in choosing a career that
made this "shrewd Scots wife" hold her son in such small esteem. At
first the family tried to launch him into the profession of the law, but
"while they fancied I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and
Virgil were the authors I was secretly devouring." For six years Hume
remained at Ninewells and then made "a feeble trial for entering on a
more active scene of life." Commerce, this time, was the chosen
instrument, but the result was not more successful. "In 1734 I went to
Bristol with some recommendations to eminent merchants, but in a few
months found that scene totally unsuitable for me." At length--in the
middle of 1736 when Hume was twenty-three years of age and without any
profession or means of earning a livelihood--he went over to France. He
settled first at Rheims, and afterwards at La Flêche in Anjou, and
"there I laid that plan of life which I have steadily and successfully
pursued. I resolved to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency
of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every
object as contemptible except the improvement of my talents in
literature." At La Flêche Hume lived in frequent intercourse with the
Jesuits at the famous college in which Descartes was educated, and he
composed his first book, the _Treatise of Human Nature_. According to
himself "it fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such
distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots." But this work
which was planned before the author was twenty-one and written before he
was twenty-five, in the opinion of Professor Huxley, is probably the
most remarkable philosophical work, both intrinsically and in its
effects upon the course of thought, that has ever been written. Three
years later Hume published anonymously, at Edinburgh, the first volume
of _Essays, Moral and Political_, which was followed in 1742 by the
second volume. The _Essays_, he says, were favourably received and soon
made me entirely forget my former disappointments.

In 1745 Hume became tutor to a young nobleman, the Marquis of Annandale,
who was mentally affected, but he did not endure the engagement for
long. Next year General St. Clair, who had been appointed to command an
expedition in the War of the Pragmatic Sanction, invited him to be his
secretary, an office to which that of judge-advocate was afterwards
added. The expedition was a failure, but General St. Clair, who was
afterwards entrusted with embassies to Turin and Vienna, and upon whom
Hume seems to have created a favourable impression, insisted that he
should accompany him in the same capacity as secretary; he further made
him one of his _aides-de-camp_. Thus Hume had to attire his portly
figure in a "scarlet military uniform," and Lord Charlemont who met him
in Turin says that he wore his uniform "like a grocer of the
train-bands." At Vienna the Empress-Dowager excused him on ceremonial
occasions from walking backwards, a concession which was much
appreciated by "my companions who were desperately afraid of my falling
on them and crushing them." Hume returned to London in 1749. "These
years," he says, "were almost the only interruptions my studies have
received during the course of my life. I passed them agreeably and in
good company, and my appointments, with my frugality, had made me reach
a fortune which I called independent, though most of my friends were
inclined to smile when I said so; in short, I was now master of near a
thousand pounds."

While Hume was away with General St. Clair his _Inquiry Concerning Human
Understanding_ was published, but it was not more successful than the
original _Treatise_ of a portion of which it was a recasting. A new
edition of _Moral and Political Essays_ met with no better fate, but
these disappointments, he says, "made little or no impression" on him.
In 1749 Hume returned to Ninewells, and lived for a while with his
brothers. Afterwards he took a flat of his own at Edinburgh, with his
sister to keep house for him. At this period the _Political Discourses_
and the _Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals_ were published. Of
the _Inquiry_ Hume held the opinion, an opinion, however, which was not
shared by the critics, that "it is of all my writings--historical,
philosophical, or literary incomparably the best." Slowly and surely his
publications were growing in reputation. In 1752 the Faculty of
Advocates elected Hume their librarian, an office which was valuable to
him, not so much for the emolument as for the extensive library which
enabled him to pursue the historical studies upon which he had for some
time been engaged. For the next nine years he was occupied with his
_History of England_. The first volume was published in 1754, and the
second volume, which met with a better reception than the first, in
1756. Only forty-five copies of the first volume were sold in a
twelvemonth; but the subsequent volumes made rapid headway, and raised a
great clamour, for in the words of Macaulay, Hume's historical picture,
though drawn by a master hand, has all the lights Tory and all the
shades Whig. In 1757 one of his most remarkable works, the _Natural
History of Religion_, appeared. The book was attacked--not wholly to
Hume's dissatisfaction, for he appreciated fame as well as
success--"with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and scurrility
which distinguish the Warburtonian school."

Hume remained in Edinburgh superintending the publication of the
_History_ until 1763 when Lord Hertford, who had been appointed
ambassador to France, offered him office in the embassy, with the
promise of the secretaryship later on. The appointment was the more
honourable, inasmuch as Hume was not personally acquainted with Lord
Hertford, who had a reputation for virtue and piety, whilst Hume's views
about religion had rendered him one of the best abused men of his time.
In France Hume's reputation stood higher than it was in England; several
of his works had been translated into French; and he had corresponded
with Montesquieu, Helvetius and Rousseau. Thus he was received in French
society with every mark of distinction. In a letter to Adam Smith in
October 1763, he wrote: "I have been three days at Paris and two at
Fontainebleau, and have everywhere met with the most extraordinary
honours, which the most exorbitant vanity could wish or desire." Great
nobles fêted him, and great ladies struggled for the presence of the
"_gros_ David" at their receptions or in their boxes at the theatre. "At
the opera his broad unmeaning face was usually to be seen _entre deux
joli minois_," says Lord Charlemont. Hume took his honours with
satisfaction, but with becoming good sense, and he did not allow these
flatteries to turn his head.

In 1767 Hume was back in London, and for the next two years held office
as Under-Secretary of State. It is not necessary to dwell upon this
period of his life, or to go into the details of his quarrel with
Rousseau. In 1769 he returned to Edinburgh "very opulent" in the
possession of £1,000 a year, and determined to take the rest of his life
easily and pleasantly. He built himself a house in Edinburgh, and for
the next six years it was the centre of the most accomplished society in
the city. In 1755 Hume's health began to fail, and he knew that his
illness must be fatal. Thus he made his will and wrote _My Own Life_,
which ends simply in these words:

     "I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution. I have suffered very
     little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange have,
     notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a
     moment's abatement of spirits; insomuch that were I to name the
     period of my life which I should most choose to pass over again, I
     might be tempted to point to this later period. I possess the same
     ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company; I
     consider, besides, that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off
     only a few years of infirmities; and though I see many symptoms of
     my literary reputation's breaking out at last with additional
     lustre, I know that I could have but few years to enjoy it. It is
     difficult to be more detached from life than I am at present.

     "To conclude historically with my own character, I am, or rather
     was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of myself); I
     was, I say, a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of
     an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but
     little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my
     passions. Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never
     soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments. My
     company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as
     to the studious and literary; and as I took a particular pleasure
     in the company of modest women, I had no reason to be displeased
     with the reception I met with from them. In a word, though most men
     any wise eminent, have found reason to complain of calumny, I never
     was touched or even attacked by her baleful tooth; and though I
     wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious
     factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted
     fury. My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one
     circumstance of my character and conduct; not but that the zealots,
     we may well suppose, would have been glad to invent and propagate
     any story to my disadvantage, but they could never find any which
     they thought would wear the face of probability. I cannot say there
     is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope
     it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is
     easily cleared and ascertained."

Hume died in Edinburgh on August 25th, 1776, and a few days later was
buried in a spot selected by himself on the Carlton Hill.

                                                HANNAFORD BENNETT



Some people are subject to a certain _delicacy_ of _passion_, which
makes them extremely sensible to all the accidents of life, and gives
them a lively joy upon every prosperous event, as well as a piercing
grief when they meet with misfortune and adversity. Favours and good
offices easily engage their friendship, while the smallest injury
provokes their resentment. Any honour or mark of distinction elevates
them above measure, but they are sensibly touched with contempt. People
of this character have, no doubt, more lively enjoyments, as well as
more pungent sorrows, than men of cool and sedate tempers. But, I
believe, when every thing is balanced, there is no one who would not
rather be of the latter character, were he entirely master of his own
disposition. Good or ill fortune is very little at our disposal; and
when a person that has this sensibility of temper meets with any
misfortune, his sorrow or resentment takes entire possession of him, and
deprives him of all relish in the common occurrences of life, the right
enjoyment of which forms the chief part of our happiness. Great
pleasures are much less frequent than great pains, so that a sensible
temper must meet with, fewer trials in the former way than in the
latter. Not to mention, that men of such lively passions are apt to be
transported beyond all bounds of prudence and discretion, and to take
false steps in the conduct of life, which are often irretrievable.

There is a _delicacy_ of _taste_ observable in some men, which very much
resembles this _delicacy_ of _passion_, and produces the same
sensibility to beauty and deformity of every kind, as that does to
prosperity and adversity, obligations and injuries. When you present a
poem or a picture to a man possessed of this talent, the delicacy of his
feeling makes him be sensibly touched with every part of it; nor are the
masterly strokes perceived with more exquisite relish and satisfaction,
than the negligences or absurdities with disgust and uneasiness. A
polite and judicious conversation affords him the highest entertainment;
rudeness or impertinence is as great punishment to him. In short,
delicacy of taste has the same effect as delicacy of passion. It
enlarges the sphere both of our happiness and misery, and makes us
sensible to pains as well as pleasures which escape the rest of mankind.

I believe, however, every one will agree with me, that notwithstanding
this resemblance, delicacy of taste is as much to be desired and
cultivated, as delicacy of passion is to be lamented, and to be
remedied, if possible. The good or ill accidents of life are very little
at our disposal; but we are pretty much masters what books we shall
read, what diversions we shall partake of, and what company we shall
keep. Philosophers have endeavoured to render happiness entirely
independent of every thing external. The degree of perfection is
impossible to be _attained_; but every wise man will endeavour to place
his happiness on such objects chiefly as depend upon himself; and _that_
is not to be _attained_ so much by any other means as by this delicacy
of sentiment. When a man is possessed of that talent, he is more happy
by what pleases his taste, than by what gratifies his appetites, and
receives more enjoyment from a poem, or a piece of reasoning, than the
most expensive luxury can afford.

Whatever connection there may be originally between these two species of
delicacy, I am persuaded that nothing is so proper to cure us of this
delicacy of passion, as the cultivating of that higher and more refined
taste, which enables us to judge of the characters of men, of the
compositions of genius, and of the productions of the nobler arts. A
greater or less relish for those obvious beauties which strike the
senses, depends entirely upon the greater or less sensibility of the
temper; but with regard to the sciences and liberal arts, a fine taste
is, in some measure, the same with strong sense, or at least depends so
much upon it that they are inseparable. In order to judge aright of a
composition of genius, there are so many views to be taken in, so many
circumstances to be compared, and such a knowledge of human nature
requisite, that no man, who is not possessed of the soundest judgment,
will ever make a tolerable critic in such performances. And this is a
new reason for cultivating a relish in the liberal arts. Our judgment
will strengthen by this exercise. We shall form juster notions of life.
Many things which please or afflict others, will appear to us too
frivolous to engage our attention; and we shall lose by degrees that
sensibility and delicacy of passion which is so incommodious.

But perhaps I have gone too far, in saying that a cultivated taste for
the polite arts extinguishes the passions, and renders us indifferent to
those objects which are so fondly pursued by the rest of mankind. On
further reflection, I find, that it rather improves our sensibility for
all the tender and agreeable passions; at the same time that it renders
the mind incapable of the rougher and more boisterous emotions.

     Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes,
     Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.

For this, I think, there may be assigned two very natural reasons. In
the _first_ place, nothing is so improving to the temper as the study of
the beauties either of poetry, eloquence, music, or painting. They give
a certain elegance of sentiment to which the rest of mankind are
strangers. The emotions which they excite are soft and tender. They draw
off the mind from the hurry of business and interest; cherish
reflection; dispose to tranquillity; and produce an agreeable
melancholy, which, of all dispositions of the mind, is the best suited
to love and friendship.

In the _second_ place, a delicacy of taste is favourable to love and
friendship, by confining our choice to few people, and making us
indifferent to the company and conversation of the greater part of men.
You will seldom find that mere men of the world, whatever strong sense
they may be endowed with, are very nice in distinguishing characters, or
in marking those insensible differences and gradations, which make one
man preferable to another. Any one that has competent sense is
sufficient for their entertainment. They talk to him of their pleasures
and affairs, with the same frankness that they would to another; and
finding many who are fit to supply his place, they never feel any
vacancy or want in his absence. But to make use of the allusion of a
celebrated French[1] author, the judgment may be compared to a clock or
watch, where the most ordinary machine is sufficient to tell the hours;
but the most elaborate alone can point out the minutes and seconds, and
distinguish the smallest differences of time. One that has well digested
his knowledge both of books and men, has little enjoyment but in the
company of a few select companions. He feels too sensibly, how much all
the rest of mankind fall short of the notions which he has entertained.
And, his affections being thus confined within a narrow circle, no
wonder he carries them further than if they were more general and
undistinguished. The gaiety and frolic of a bottle companion improves
with him into a solid friendship; and the ardours of a youthful appetite
become an elegant passion.

[1] Mons. Fontenelle, Pluralité des Mondes, Soir 6.


Nothing is more apt to surprise a foreigner, than the extreme liberty
which we enjoy in this country of communicating whatever we please to
the public and of openly censuring every measure entered into by the
king or his ministers. If the administration resolve upon war, it is
affirmed, that, either wilfully or ignorantly, they mistake the
interests of the nation; and that peace, in the present situation of
affairs, is infinitely preferable. If the passion of the ministers lie
towards peace, our political writers breathe nothing but war and
devastation, and represent the specific conduct of the government as
mean and pusillanimous. As this liberty is not indulged in any other
government, either republican or monarchical; in Holland and Venice,
more than in France or Spain; it may very naturally give occasion to the
question, _How it happens that Great Britain alone enjoys this peculiar

The reason why the laws indulge us in such a liberty, seems to be
derived from our mixed form of government, which is neither wholly
monarchical, nor wholly republican. It will be found, if I mistake not,
a true observation in politics, that the two extremes in government,
liberty and slavery, commonly approach nearest to each other; and that,
as you depart from the extremes, and mix a little of monarchy with
liberty, the government becomes always the more free; and, on the other
hand, when you mix a little of liberty with monarchy, the yoke becomes
always the more grievous and intolerable. In a government, such as that
of France, which is absolute, and where law, custom, and religion
concur, all of them, to make the people fully satisfied with their
condition, the monarch cannot entertain any _jealousy_ against his
subjects, and therefore is apt to indulge them in great _liberties_,
both of speech and action. In a government altogether republican, such
as that of Holland, where there is no magistrate so eminent as to give
_jealousy_ to the state, there is no danger in intrusting the
magistrates with large discretionary powers; and though many advantages
result from such powers, in preserving peace and order, yet they lay a
considerable restraint on men's actions, and make every private citizen
pay a great respect to the government. Thus it seems evident, that the
two extremes of absolute monarchy and of a republic, approach near to
each other in some material circumstances. In the _first_, the
magistrate has no jealousy of the people; in the _second_, the people
have none of the magistrate: which want of jealousy begets a mutual
confidence and trust in both cases, and produces a species of liberty in
monarchies, and of arbitrary power in republics.

To justify the other part of the foregoing observation, that, in every
government, the means are most wide of each other, and that the mixtures
of monarchy and liberty render the yoke either more grievous; I must
take notice of a remark in Tacitus with regard to the Romans under the
Emperors, that they neither could bear total slavery nor total liberty,
_Nec totam servitutem, nec totam libertatem pati possunt._ This remark a
celebrated poet has translated and applied to the English, in his lively
description of Queen Elizabeth's policy and government.

     Et fit aimer son joug à l'Anglois indompté,
     Qui ne peut ni servir, ni vivre en liberté.
                                        HENRIADE, liv. i.

According to these remarks, we are to consider the Roman government
under the Emperors as a mixture of despotism and liberty, where the
despotism prevailed; and the English government as a mixture of the same
kind, where the liberty predominates. The consequences are conformable
to the foregoing observation, and such as may be expected from those
mixed forms of government, which beget a mutual watchfulness and
jealousy. The Roman emperors were, many of them, the most frightful
tyrants that ever disgraced human nature; and it is evident, that their
cruelty was chiefly excited by their _jealousy_, and by their observing
that all the great men of Rome bore with impatience the dominion of a
family, which, but a little before, was nowise superior to their own. On
the other hand, as the republican part of the government prevails in
England, though with a great mixture of monarchy, it is obliged, for its
own preservation, to maintain a watchful _jealousy_ over the
magistrates, to remove all discretionary powers, and to secure every
one's life and fortune by general and inflexible laws. No action must be
deemed a crime but what the law has plainly determined to be such: no
crime must be imputed to a man but from a legal proof before his judges;
and even these judges must be his fellow-subjects, who are obliged, by
their own interest, to have a watchful eye over the encroachments and
violence of the ministers. From these causes it proceeds, that there is
as much liberty, and even perhaps licentiousness, in Great Britain, as
there were formerly slavery and tyranny in Rome.

These principles account for the great liberty of the press in these
kingdoms, beyond what is indulged in any other government. It is
apprehended that arbitrary power would steal in upon us, were we not
careful to prevent its progress, and were there not any easy method of
conveying the alarm from one end of the kingdom to the other. The spirit
of the people must frequently be roused, in order to curb the ambition
of the court; and the dread of rousing this spirit must be employed to
prevent that ambition. Nothing so effectual to this purpose as the
liberty of the press; by which all the learning, wit, and genius of the
nation, may be employed on the side of freedom, and every one be
animated to its defence. As long, therefore, as the republican part of
our government can maintain itself against the monarchical, it will
naturally be careful to keep the press open, as of importance to its own

It must however be allowed, that the unbounded liberty of the press,
though it be difficult, perhaps impossible, to propose a suitable remedy
for it, is one of the evils attending those mixed forms of government.

[1] Since, therefore, the liberty of the press is so essential to the
support of our mixed government, this sufficiently decides the second
question, _Whether this liberty be advantageous or prejudicial,_ there
being nothing of greater importance in every state than the preservation
of the ancient government, especially if it be a free one. But I would
fain go a step further, and assert, that such a liberty is attended with
so few inconveniences, that it may be claimed as the common right of
mankind, and ought to be indulged them almost in every government except
the ecclesiastical, to which, indeed, it would be fatal. We need not
dread from this liberty any such ill consequences as followed from the
harangues of the popular demagogues of Athens and Tribunes of Rome. A
man reads a book or pamphlet alone and coolly. There is none present
from whom he can catch the passion by contagion. He is not hurried away
by the force and energy of action. And should he be wrought up to never
so seditious a humour, there is no violent resolution presented to him
by which he can immediately vent his passion. The liberty of the press,
therefore, however abused, can scarce ever excite popular tumults or
rebellion. And as to those murmurs or secret discontents it may
occasion, it is better they should get vent in words, that they may come
to the knowledge of the magistrate before it be too late, in order to
his providing a remedy against them. Mankind, it is true, have always a
greater propension to believe what is said to the disadvantage of their
governors than the contrary; but this inclination is inseparable from
them whether they have liberty or not. A whisper may fly as quick, and
be as pernicious as a pamphlet. Nay, it will be more pernicious, where
men are not accustomed to think freely, or distinguish betwixt truth and

It has also been found, as the experience of mankind increases, that the
_people_ are no such dangerous monsters as they have been represented,
and that it is in every respect better to guide them like rational
creatures than to lead or drive them like brute beasts. Before the
United Provinces set the example, toleration was deemed incompatible
with good government; and it was thought impossible that a number of
religious sects could live together in harmony and peace, and have all
of them an equal affection to their common country and to each other.
_England_ has set a like example of civil liberty; and though this
liberty seems to occasion some small ferment at present, it has not as
yet produced any pernicious effects; and it is to be hoped that men,
being every day more accustomed to the free discussion of public
affairs, will improve in their judgment of them, and be with greater
difficulty seduced by every idle rumour and popular clamour.

It is a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty, that this
peculiar privilege of _Britain_ is of a kind that cannot easily be
wrested from us, and must last as long as our government remains in any
degree free and independent. It is seldom that liberty of any kind is
lost all at once. Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed
to freedom, that it must steal in upon them by degrees, and must
disguise itself in a thousand shapes in order to be received. But if the
liberty of the press ever be lost, it must be lost at once. The general
laws against sedition and libelling are at present as strong as they
possibly can be made. Nothing can impose a further restraint but either
the clapping an imprimatur upon the press, or the giving very large
discretionary powers to the court to punish whatever displeases them.
But these concessions would be such a barefaced violation of liberty,
that they will probably be the last efforts of a despotic government. We
may conclude that the liberty of _Britain_ is gone for ever when these
attempts shall succeed.


It is a question with several, whether there be any essential difference
between one form of government and another? and, whether every form may
not become good or bad, according as it is well or ill administered?[1]
Were it once admitted, that all governments are alike, and that the only
difference consists in the character and conduct of the governors, most
political disputes would be at an end, and all _Zeal_ for one
constitution above another must be esteemed mere bigotry and folly. But,
though a friend to moderation, I cannot forbear condemning this
sentiment, and should be sorry to think, that human affairs admit of no
greater stability, than what they receive from the casual humours and
characters of particular men.

It is true, those who maintain that the goodness of all government
consists in the goodness of the administration, may cite many particular
instances in history, where the very same government, in different
hands, has varied suddenly into the two opposite extremes of good and
bad. Compare the French government under Henry III and under Henry IV.
Oppression, levity, artifice, on the part of the rulers; faction,
sedition, treachery, rebellion, disloyalty on the part of the subjects:
these compose the character of the former miserable era. But when the
patriot and heroic prince, who succeeded, was once firmly seated on the
throne, the government, the people, every thing, seemed to be totally
changed; and all from the difference of the temper and conduct of these
two sovereigns.[2] Instances of this kind may be multiplied, almost
without number, from ancient as well as modern history, foreign as well
as domestic.

But here it may be proper to make a distinction. All absolute
governments must very much depend on the administration; and this is one
of the great inconveniences attending that form of government. But a
republican and free government would be an obvious absurdity, if the
particular checks and controls, provided by the constitution had really
no influence, and made it not the interest, even of bad men, to act for
the public good. Such is the intention of these forms of government, and
such is their real effect, where they are wisely constituted: as, on the
other hand, they are the source of all disorder, and of the blackest
crimes, where either skill or honesty has been wanting in their original
frame and institution.

So great is the force of laws, and of particular forms of government,
and so little dependence have they on the humours and tempers of men,
that consequences almost as general and certain may sometimes be deduced
from them, as any which the mathematical sciences afford us.

The constitution of the Roman republic gave the whole legislative power
to the people, without allowing a negative voice either to the nobility
or consuls. This unbounded power they possessed in a collective, not in
a representative body. The consequences were: when the people, by
success and conquest, had become very numerous, and had spread
themselves to a great distance from the capital, the city tribes, though
the most contemptible, carried almost every vote: they were, therefore,
most cajoled by every one that affected popularity: they were supported
in idleness by the general distribution of corn, and by particular
bribes, which they received from almost every candidate: by this means,
they became every day more licentious, and the Campus Martius was a
perpetual scene of tumult and sedition: armed slaves were introduced
among these rascally citizens, so that the whole government fell into
anarchy; and the greatest happiness which the Romans could look for, was
the despotic power of the Cæsars. Such are the effects of democracy
without a representative.

A Nobility may possess the whole, or any part of the legislative power
of a state, in two different ways. Either every nobleman shares the
power as a part of the whole body, or the whole body enjoys the power as
composed of parts, which have each a distinct power and authority. The
Venetian aristocracy is an instance of the first kind of government; the
Polish, of the second. In the Venetian government the whole body of
nobility possesses the whole power, and no nobleman has any authority
which he receives not from the whole. In the Polish government every
nobleman, by means of his fiefs, has a distinct hereditary authority
over his vassals, and the whole body has no authority but what it
receives from the concurrence of its parts. The different operations and
tendencies of these two species of government might be made apparent
even _a priori_. A Venetian nobility is preferable to a Polish, let the
humours and education of men be ever so much varied. A nobility, who
possess their power in common, will preserve peace and order, both among
themselves, and their subjects; and no member can have authority enough
to control the laws for a moment. The nobles will preserve their
authority over the people, but without any grievous tyranny, or any
breach of private property; because such a tyrannical government
promotes not the interests of the whole body, however it may that of
some individuals. There will be a distinction of rank between the
nobility and people, but this will be the only distinction in the state.
The whole nobility will form one body, and the whole people another,
without any of those private feuds and animosities, which spread ruin
and desolation everywhere. It is easy to see the disadvantages of a
Polish nobility in every one of these particulars.

It is possible so to constitute a free government, as that a single
person, call him a doge, prince, or king, shall possess a large share of
power, and shall form a proper balance or counterpoise to the other
parts of the legislature. This chief magistrate may be either _elective_
or _hereditary_, and though the former institution may, to a superficial
view, appear the most advantageous; yet a more accurate inspection will
discover in it greater inconveniences than in the latter, and such as
are founded on causes and principles eternal and immutable. The filling
of the throne, in such a government, is a point of too great and too
general interest, not to divide the whole people into factions, whence a
civil war, the greatest of ills, may be apprehended, almost with
certainty, upon every vacancy. The prince elected must be either a
_Foreigner_ or a _Native_: the former will be ignorant of the people
whom he is to govern; suspicious of his new subjects, and suspected by
them; giving his confidence entirely to strangers, who will have no
other care but of enriching themselves in the quickest manner, while
their master's favour and authority are able to support them. A native
will carry into the throne all his private animosities and friendships,
and will never be viewed in his elevation without exciting the sentiment
of envy in those who formerly considered him as their equal. Not to
mention that a crown is too high a reward ever to be given to merit
alone, and will always induce the candidates to employ force, or money,
or intrigue, to procure the votes of the electors: so that such an
election will give no better chance for superior merit in the prince,
than if the state had trusted to birth alone for determining the

It may, therefore, be pronounced as an universal axiom in politics,
_That an hereditary prince, a nobility without vassals, and a people
voting by their representatives, form the best_ MONARCHY, ARISTOCRACY,
_and_ DEMOCRACY. But in order to prove more fully, that politics admit
of general truths, which are invariable by the humour or education
either of subject or sovereign, it may not be amiss to observe some
other principles of this science, which may seem to deserve that

It may easily be observed, that though free governments have been
commonly the most happy for those who partake of their freedom; yet are
they the most ruinous and oppressive to their provinces: and this
observation may, I believe, be fixed as a maxim of the kind we are here
speaking of. When a monarch extends his dominions by conquest, he soon
learns to consider his old and his new subjects as on the same footing;
because, in reality, all his subjects are to him the same, except the
few friends and favourites with whom he is personally acquainted. He
does not, therefore, make any distinction between them in his _general_
laws; and, at the same time, is careful to prevent all _particular_ acts
of oppression on the one as well as the other. But a free state
necessarily makes a great distinction, and must always do so till men
learn to love their neighbours as well as themselves. The conquerors, in
such a government, are all legislators, and will be sure to contrive
matters, by restrictions on trade, and by taxes, so as to draw some
private, as well as public advantage from their conquests. Provincial
governors have also a better chance, in a republic, to escape with their
plunder, by means of bribery or intrigue; and their fellow-citizens, who
find their own state to be enriched by the spoils of the subject
provinces, will be the more inclined to tolerate such abuses. Not to
mention, that it is a necessary precaution in a free state to change the
governors frequently, which obliges these temporary tyrants to be more
expeditious and rapacious, that they may accumulate sufficient wealth
before they give place to their successors. What cruel tyrants were the
Romans over the world during the time of their commonwealth! It is true,
they had laws to prevent oppression in their provincial magistrates; but
Cicero informs us, that the Romans could not better consult the
interests of the provinces than by repealing these very laws. For, in
that case, says he, our magistrates, having entire impunity, would
plunder no more than would satisfy their own rapaciousness; whereas, at
present, they must also satisfy that of their judges, and of all the
great men in Rome, of whose protection they stand in need. Who can read
of the cruelties and oppressions of Verres without horror and
astonishment? And who is not touched with indignation to hear, that,
after Cicero had exhausted on that abandoned criminal all the thunders
of his eloquence, and had prevailed so far as to get him condemned to
the utmost extent of the laws, yet that cruel tyrant lived peaceably to
old age, in opulence and ease, and, thirty years afterwards, was put
into the proscription by Mark Antony, on account of his exorbitant
wealth, where he fell with Cicero himself, and all the most virtuous men
of Rome? After the dissolution of the commonwealth, the Roman yoke
became easier upon the provinces, as Tacitus informs us; and it may be
observed, that many of the worst emperors, Domitian, for instance, were
careful to prevent all oppression on the provinces. In Tiberius's time,
Gaul was esteemed richer than Italy itself: nor do I find, during the
whole time of the Roman monarchy, that the empire became less rich or
populous in any of its provinces; though indeed its valour and military
discipline were always upon the decline. The oppression and tyranny of
the Carthaginians over their subject states in Africa went so far, as we
learn from Polybius, that, not content with exacting the half of all the
produce of the land, which of itself was a very high rent, they also
loaded them with many other taxes. If we pass from ancient to modern
times, we shall still find the observation to hold. The provinces of
absolute monarchies are always better treated than those of free states.
Compare the _Pais conquis_ of France with Ireland, and you will be
convinced of this truth; though this latter kingdom, being in a good
measure peopled from England, possesses so many rights and privileges as
should naturally make it challenge better treatment than that of a
conquered province. Corsica is also an obvious instance to the same

There is an observation of Machiavel, with regard to the conquests of
Alexander the Great, which, I think, may be regarded as one of those
eternal political truths, which no time nor accidents can vary. It may
seem strange, says that politician, that such sudden conquests, as those
of Alexander, should be possessed so peaceably by his successors, and
that the Persians, during all the confusions and civil wars among the
Greeks, never made the smallest effort towards the recovery of their
former independent government. To satisfy us concerning the cause of
this remarkable event, we may consider, that a monarch may govern his
subjects in two different ways. He may either follow the maxims of the
Eastern princes, and stretch his authority so far as to leave no
distinction of rank among his subjects, but what proceeds immediately
from himself; no advantages of birth; no hereditary honours and
possessions; and, in a word, no credit among the people, except from his
commission alone. Or a monarch may exert his power after a milder
manner, like other European princes; and leave other sources of honour,
beside his smile and favour; birth, titles, possessions, valour,
integrity, knowledge, or great and fortunate achievements. In the former
species of government, after a conquest, it is impossible ever to shake
off the yoke; since no one possesses, among the people, so much personal
credit and authority as to begin such an enterprise: whereas, in the
latter, the least misfortune, or discord among the victors, will
encourage the vanquished to take arms, who have leaders ready to prompt
and conduct them in every undertaking.[3]

Such is the reasoning of Machiavel, which seems solid and conclusive;
though I wish he had not mixed falsehood with truth, in asserting that
monarchies, governed according to Eastern policy, though more easily
kept when once subdued, yet are the most difficult to subdue; since they
cannot contain any powerful subject, whose discontent and faction may
facilitate the enterprises of an enemy. For, besides, that such a
tyrannical government enervates the courage of men, and renders them
indifferent towards the fortunes of their sovereigns; besides this, I
say, we find by experience, that even the temporary and delegated
authority of the generals and magistrates, being always, in such
governments, as absolute within its sphere as that of the prince
himself, is able, with barbarians accustomed to a blind submission, to
produce the most dangerous and fatal revolutions. So that in every
respect, a gentle government is preferable, and gives the greatest
security to the sovereign as well as to the subject.

Legislators, therefore, ought not to trust the future government of a
state entirely to chance, but ought to provide a system of laws to
regulate the administration of public affairs to the latest posterity.
Effects will always correspond to causes; and wise regulations, in any
commonwealth, are the most valuable legacy that can be left to future
ages. In the smallest court or office, the stated forms and methods by
which business must be conducted, are found to be a considerable check
on the natural depravity of mankind. Why should not the case be the same
in public affairs? Can we ascribe the stability and wisdom of the
Venetian government, through so many ages, to any thing but the form of
government? And is it not easy to point out those defects in the
original constitution, which produced the tumultuous governments of
Athens and Rome, and ended at last in the ruin of these two famous
republics? And so little dependence has this affair on the humours and
education of particular men, that one part of the same republic may be
wisely conducted, and another weakly, by the very same men, merely on
account of the differences of the forms and institutions by which these
parts are regulated. Historians inform us that this was actually the
case with Genoa. For while the state was always full of sedition, and
tumult, and disorder, the bank of St. George, which had become a
considerable part of the people, was conducted, for several ages, with
the utmost integrity and wisdom.

The ages of greatest public spirit are not always most eminent for
private virtue. Good laws may beget order and moderation in the
government, where the manners and customs have instilled little humanity
or justice into the tempers of men. The most illustrious period of the
Roman history, considered in a political view, is that between the
beginning of the first and end of the last Punic war; the due balance
between the nobility and people being then fixed by the contests of the
tribunes, and not being yet lost by the extent of conquests. Yet at this
very time, the horrid practice of poisoning was so common, that, during
part of the season, a _Prætor_ punished capitally for this crime above
three thousand persons in a part of Italy; and found informations of
this nature still multiplying upon him. There is a similar, or rather a
worse instance, in the more early times of the commonwealth; so depraved
in private life were that people, whom in their histories we so much
admire. I doubt not but they were really more virtuous during the time
of the two _Triumvirates_, when they were tearing their common country
to pieces, and spreading slaughter and desolation over the face of the
earth, merely for the choice of tyrants.

Here, then, is a sufficient inducement to maintain, with the utmost
zeal, in every free state, those forms and institutions by which liberty
is secured, the public good consulted, and the avarice or ambition of
particular men restrained and punished. Nothing does more honour to
human nature, than to see it susceptible of so noble a passion; as
nothing can be a greater indication of meanness of heart in any man than
to see him destitute of it. A man who loves only himself, without regard
to friendship and desert, merits the severest blame; and a man, who is
only susceptible of friendship, without public spirit, or a regard to
the community, is deficient in the most material part of virtue.

But this is a subject which needs not be longer insisted on at present.
There are enow of zealots on both sides, who kindle up the passions of
their partisans, and, under pretence of public good, pursue the
interests and ends of their particular faction. For my part, I shall
always be more fond of promoting moderation than zeal; though perhaps
the surest way of producing moderation in every party is to increase our
zeal for the public. Let us therefore try, if it be possible, from the
foregoing doctrine, to draw a lesson of moderation with regard to the
parties into which our country is at present divided; at the same time,
that we allow not this moderation to abate the industry and passion,
with which every individual is bound to pursue the good of his country.

Those who either attack or defend a minister in such a government as
ours, where the utmost liberty is allowed, always carry matters to an
extreme, and exaggerate his merit or demerit with regard to the public.
His enemies are sure to charge him with the greatest enormities, both in
domestic and foreign management; and there is no meanness or crime, of
which, in their account, he is not capable. Unnecessary wars, scandalous
treaties, profusion of public treasure, oppressive taxes, every kind of
maladministration is ascribed to him. To aggravate the charge, his
pernicious conduct, it is said, will extend its baneful influence even
to posterity, by undermining the best constitution in the world, and
disordering that wise system of laws, institutions, and customs, by
which our ancestors, during so many centuries, have been so happily
governed. He is not only a wicked minister in himself, but has removed
every security provided against wicked ministers for the future.

On the other hand, the partisans of the minister make his panegyric run
as high as the accusation against him, and celebrate his wise, steady,
and moderate conduct in every part of his administration. The honour and
interest of the nation supported abroad, public credit maintained at
home, persecution restrained, faction subdued; the merit of all these
blessings is ascribed solely to the minister. At the same time, he
crowns all his other merits by a religious care of the best constitution
in the world, which he has preserved in all its parts, and has
transmitted entire, to be the happiness and security of the latest

When this accusation and panegyric are received by the partisans of each
party, no wonder they beget an extraordinary ferment on both sides, and
fill the nation with violent animosities. But I would fain persuade
these party zealots, that there is a flat contradiction both in the
accusation and panegyric, and that it were impossible for either of them
to run so high, were it not for this contradiction. If our constitution
be really _that noble fabric, the pride of Britain, the envy of our
neighbours, raised by the labour of so many centuries, repaired at the
expense of so many millions, and cemented by such a profusion of
blood_;[4] I say, if our constitution does in any degree deserve these
eulogies, it would never have suffered a wicked and weak minister to
govern triumphantly for a course of twenty years, when opposed by the
greatest geniuses in the nation, who exercised the utmost liberty of
tongue and pen, in parliament, and in their frequent appeals to the
people. But, if the minister be wicked and weak, to the degree so
strenuously insisted on, the constitution must be faulty in its original
principles, and he cannot consistently be charged with undermining the
best form of government in the world. A constitution is only so far
good, as it provides a remedy against maladministration; and if the
British, when in its greatest vigour, and repaired by two such
remarkable events as the _Revolution_ and _Accession_, by which our
ancient royal family was sacrificed to it; if our constitution, I say,
with so great advantages, does not, in fact, provide any such remedy, we
are rather beholden to any minister who undermines it, and affords us an
opportunity of erecting a better in its place.

I would employ the same topics to moderate the zeal of those who defend
the minister. _Is our constitution so excellent?_ Then a change of
ministry can be no such dreadful event; since it is essential to such a
constitution, in every ministry, both to preserve itself from violation,
and to prevent all enormities in the administration. _Is our
constitution very bad?_ Then so extraordinary a jealousy and
apprehension, on account of changes, is ill placed; and a man should no
more be anxious in this case, than a husband, who had married a woman
from the stews, should be watchful to prevent her infidelity. Public
affairs, in such a government, must necessarily go to confusion, by
whatever hands they are conducted; and the zeal of _patriots_ is in that
case much less requisite than the patience and submission of
_philosophers_. The virtue and good intention of Cato and Brutus are
highly laudable; but to what purpose did their zeal serve? Only to
hasten the fatal period of the Roman government, and render its
convulsions and dying agonies more violent and painful.

I would not be understood to mean, that public affairs deserve no care
and attention at all. Would men be moderate and consistent, their claims
might be admitted; at least might be examined. The _country party_ might
still assert, that our constitution, though excellent, will admit of
maladministration to a certain degree; and therefore, if the minister be
bad, it is proper to oppose him with a _suitable_ degree of zeal. And,
on the other hand, the _court party_ may be allowed, upon the
supposition that the minister were good, to defend, and with some zeal
too, his administration. I would only persuade men not to contend, as if
they were fighting _pro aris et focis_, and change a good constitution
into a bad one, by the violence of their factions.

I have not here considered any thing that is personal in the present
controversy. In the best civil constitutions, where every man is
restrained by the most rigid laws, it is easy to discover either the
good or bad intentions of a minister, and to judge whether his personal
character deserve love or hatred. But such questions are of little
importance to the public, and lay those who employ their pens upon
them, under a just suspicion either of malevolence or of flattery.[5]


     For forms of government let fools contest,
     Whate'er is best administered is best.
                            ESSAY ON MAN, Book 3.

[2] An equal difference of a contrary kind may be found in comparing the
reigns of _Elizabeth_ and _James_, at least with regard to foreign

[3] I have taken it for granted, according to the supposition of
Machiavel, that the ancient Persians had no nobility; though there is
reason to suspect, that the Florentine secretary, who seems to have been
better acquainted with the Roman than the Greek authors, was mistaken in
this particular. The more ancient Persians, whose manners are described
by Xenophon, were a free people, and had nobility. Their ομοτιμοι were
preserved even after the extending of their conquests and the consequent
change of their government. Arrian mentions them in Darius's time, _De
exped. Alex._ lib. ii. Historians also speak often of the persons in
command as men of family. Tygranes, who was general of the Medes under
Xerxes, was of the race of Achmænes, Heriod. lib. vii. cap. 62.
Artachæus, who directed the cutting of the canal about Mount Athos, was
of the same family. Id. cap. 117. Megabyzus was one of the seven eminent
Persians who conspired against the Magi. His son, Zopyrus, was in the
highest command under Darius, and delivered Babylon to him. His
grandson, Megabyzus, commanded the army defeated at Marathon. His
great-grandson, Zopyrus, was also eminent, and was banished Persia.
Heriod. lib. iii. Thuc. lib. i. Rosaces, who commanded an army in Egypt
under Artaxerxes, was also descended from one of the seven conspirators,
Diod. Sic. lib. xvi. Agesilaus, in Xenophon. Hist. Græc. lib. iv. being
desirous of making a marriage betwixt king Cotys his ally, and the
daughter of Spithridates, a Persian of rank, who had deserted to him,
first asks Cotys what family Spithridates is of. One of the most
considerable in Persia, says Cotys. Ariæus, when offered the sovereignty
by Clearchus and the ten thousand Greeks, refused it as of too low a
rank, and said, that so many eminent Persians would never endure his
rule. _Id. de exped._ lib. ii. Some of the families descended from the
seven Persians above mentioned remained during Alexander's successors;
and Mithridates, in Antiochus's time, is said by Polybius to be
descended from one of them, lib. v. cap. 43. Artabazus was esteemed as
Arrian says, εν τοις πρωτοις Περσων, lib. iii. And when Alexander
married in one day 80 of his captains to Persian women, his intention
plainly was to ally the Macedonians with the most eminent Persian
families. Id. lib. vii. Diodorus Siculus says, they were of the most
noble birth in Persia, lib. xvii. The government of Persia was despotic,
and conducted in many respects after the Eastern manner, but was not
carried so far as to extirpate all nobility, and confound all ranks and
orders. It left men who were still great, by themselves and their
family, independent of their office and commission. And the reason why
the Macedonians kept so easily dominion over them, was owing to other
causes easy to be found in the historians, though it must be owned that
Machiavel's reasoning is, in itself, just, however doubtful its
application to the present case.

[4] Dissertation on Parties, Letter X.

[5] _What our author's opinion was of the famous minister here pointed
at, may be learned from that Essay, printed in the former edition, under
the title of_ 'A Character of Sir Robert Walpole.' _It was as
follows_:--There never was a man whose actions and character have been
more earnestly and openly canvassed than those of the present minister,
who, having governed a learned and free nation for so long a time,
amidst such mighty opposition, may make a large library of what has been
wrote for and against him, and is the subject of above half the paper
that has been blotted in the nation within these twenty years. I wish,
for the honour of our country, that any one character of him had been
drawn with such _judgment_ and _impartiality_ as to have some credit
with posterity, and to show that our liberty has, once at least,
employed to good purpose. I am only afraid of failing in the former
quality of judgment; but if it should be so, it is but one page more
thrown away, after an hundred thousand upon the same subject, that have
perished and become useless. In the mean time, I shall flatter myself
with the pleasing imagination, that the following character will be
adopted by future historians.

Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister of _Great Britain_, is a man of
ability, not a genius, good-natured, not virtuous; constant, not
magnanimous; moderate, not equitable.[*] His virtues, in some instances,
are free from the alloy of those vices which usually accompany such
virtues; he is a generous friend, without being a bitter enemy. His
vices, in other instances, are not compensated by those virtues which
are nearly allied to them: his want of enterprise is not attended with
frugality. The private character of the man is better than the public:
his virtues more than his vices: his fortune greater than his fame. With
many good qualities, he has incurred the public hatred: with good
capacity, he has not escaped ridicule. He would have been esteemed more
worthy of his high station, had he never possessed it; and is better
qualified for the second than for the first place in any government; his
ministry has been more advantageous to his family than to the public,
better for this age than for posterity; and more pernicious by bad
precedents than by real grievances. During his time trade has
flourished, liberty declined, and learning gone to ruin. As I am a man,
I love him; as I am a scholar, I hate him; as I am a _Briton_, I calmly
wish his fall. And were I a member of either House, I would give my vote
for removing him from St James's; but should be glad to see him retire
to _Houghton-Hall_, to pass the remainder of his days in ease and

*Moderate in the exercise of power, not equitable in engrossing it.

_The author is pleased to find, that after animosities are laid, and
calumny has ceased, the whole nation almost have returned to the same
moderate sentiments with regard to this great man, if they are not
rather become more favourable to him, by a very natural transition, from
one extreme to another. The author would not oppose these humane
sentiments towards the dead; though he cannot forbear observing, that
the not paying more of our public debts was, as hinted in this
character, a great, and the only great, error in that long


Nothing appears more surprising to those who consider human affairs with
a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed
by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own
sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by
what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as Force is
always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to
support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that
government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and
most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.
The soldan of Egypt, or the emperor of Rome, might drive his harmless
subjects, like brute beasts, against their sentiments and inclination.
But he must, at least, have led his _mamalukes_ or _prætorian bands_,
like men, by their opinion.

Opinion is of two kinds, to wit, opinion of interest, and opinion of
right. By opinion of INTEREST, I chiefly understand the sense of the
general advantage which is reaped from government; together with the
persuasion, that the particular government which is established is
equally advantageous with any other that could easily be settled. When
this opinion prevails among the generality of a state, or among those
who have the force in their hands, it gives great security to any

Right is of two kinds; right to Power, and right to Property. What
prevalence opinion of the first kind has over mankind, may easily be
understood, by observing the attachment which all nations have to their
ancient government, and even to those names which have had the sanction
of antiquity. Antiquity always begets the opinion of right; and whatever
disadvantageous sentiments we may entertain of mankind, they are always
found to be prodigal both of blood and treasure in the maintenance of
public justice.[1] There is, indeed, no particular in which, at first
sight, there may appear a greater contradiction in the frame of the
human mind than the present. When men act in a faction, they are apt,
without shame or remorse, to neglect all the ties of honour and
morality, in order to serve their party; and yet, when a faction is
formed upon a point of right or principle, there is no occasion where
men discover a greater obstinacy, and a more determined sense of justice
and equity. The same social disposition of mankind is the cause of
these contradictory appearances.

It is sufficiently understood, that the opinion of right to property is
of moment in all matters of government. A noted author has made property
the foundation of all government; and most of our political writers seem
inclined to follow him in that particular. This is carrying the matter
too far; but still it must be owned, that the opinion of right to
property has a great influence in this subject.

Upon these three opinions, therefore, of public _interest_, of _right to
power_, and of _right to property_, are all governments founded, and all
authority of the few over the many. There are indeed other principles
which add force to these, and determine, limit, or alter their
operation; such as _self-interest_, _fear_, and _affection_. But still
we may assert, that these other principles can have no influence alone,
but suppose the antecedent influence of those opinions above mentioned.
They are, therefore, to be esteemed the secondary, not the original,
principles of government.

For, _first_, as to _self-interest_, by which I mean the expectation of
particular rewards, distinct from the general protection which we
receive from government, it is evident that the magistrate's authority
must be antecedently established, at least be hoped for, in order to
produce this expectation. The prospect of reward may augment his
authority with regard to some particular persons, but can never give
birth to it, with regard to the public. Men naturally look for the
greatest favours from their friends and acquaintance; and therefore, the
hopes of any considerable number of the state would never centre in any
particular set of men, if these men had no other title to magistracy,
and had no separate influence over the opinions of mankind. The same
observation may be extended to the other two principles of _fear_ and
_affection_. No man would have any reason to _fear_ the fury of a
tyrant, if he had no authority over any but from fear; since, as a
single man, his bodily force can reach but a small way, and all the
further power he possesses must be founded either on our own opinion, or
on the presumed opinion of others. And though _affection_ to wisdom and
virtue in a _sovereign_ extends very far, and has great influence, yet
he must antecedently be supposed invested with a public character,
otherwise the public esteem will serve him in no stead, nor will his
virtue have any influence beyond a narrow sphere.

A government may endure for several ages, though the balance of power
and the balance of property do not coincide. This chiefly happens where
any rank or order of the state has acquired a large share in the
property; but, from the original constitution of the government, has no
share in the power. Under what pretence would any individual of that
order assume authority in public affairs? As men are commonly much
attached to their ancient government, it is not to be expected, that
the public would ever favour such usurpations. But where the original
constitution allows any share of power, though small, to an order of men
who possess a large share of property, it is easy for them gradually to
stretch their authority, and bring the balance of power to coincide with
that of property. This has been the case with the House of Commons in

Most writers that have treated of the British government, have supposed,
that, as the Lower House represents all the Commons of Great Britain,
its weight in the scale is proportioned to the property and power of all
whom it represents. But this principle must not be received as
absolutely true. For though the people are apt to attach themselves more
to the House of Commons than to any other member of the constitution,
that House being chosen by them as their representatives, and as the
public guardians of their liberty; yet are there instances where the
House, even when in opposition to the crown, has not been followed by
the people, as we may particularly observe of the _Tory_ House of
Commons in the reign of King William. Were the members obliged to
receive instructions from their constituents, like the Dutch deputies,
this would entirely alter the case; and if such immense power and
riches, as those of all the Commons of Great Britain, were brought into
the scale, it is not easy to conceive, that the crown could either
influence that multitude of people, or withstand the balance of
property. It is true, the crown has great influence over the collective
body in the elections of members; but were this influence, which at
present is only exerted once in seven years, to be employed in bringing
over the people to every vote, it would soon be wasted, and no skill,
popularity, or revenue, could support it. I must, therefore, be of
opinion, that an alteration in this particular would introduce a total
alteration in our government, and would soon reduce it to a pure
republic; and, perhaps, to a republic of no inconvenient form. For
though the people, collected in a body like the Roman tribes, be quite
unfit for government, yet, when dispersed in small bodies, they are most
susceptible both of reason and order; the force of popular currents and
tides is in a great measure broken; and the public interests may be
pursued with some method and constancy. But it is needless to reason any
further concerning a form of government, which is never likely to have
place in Great Britain, and which seems not to be the aim of any party
amongst us. Let us cherish and improve our ancient government as much as
possible, without encouraging a passion for such dangerous novelties.[2]

[1] This passion we may denominate enthusiasm, or we may give it what
appellation we please; but a politician who should overlook its
influence on human affairs, would prove himself to have but a very
limited understanding.

[2] I shall conclude this subject with observing, that the present
political controversy with regard to _instructions_, is a very frivolous
one, and can never be brought to any decision, as it is managed by both
parties. The country party do not pretend that a member is absolutely
bound to follow instructions as an ambassador or general is confined by
his orders, and that his vote is not to be received in the House, but so
far as it is conformable to them. The court party, again, do not pretend
that the sentiments of the people ought to have no weight with every
member; much less that he ought to despise the sentiments of those whom
he represents, and with whom he is more particularly connected. And if
their sentiments be of weight, why ought they not to express these
sentiments? The question then is only concerning the degrees of weight
which ought to be placed on instructions. But such is the nature of
language, that it is impossible for it to express distinctly these
different degrees; and if men will carry on a controversy on this head,
it may well happen that they differ in the language, and yet agree in
their sentiments; or differ in their sentiments, and yet agree in their
language. Besides, how is it possible to fix these degrees, considering
the variety of affairs that come before the House, and the variety of
places which members represent? Ought the instructions of _Totness_ to
have the same weight as those of London? or instructions with regard to
the _Convention_ which respected foreign politics to have the same
weight as those with regard to the _Excise_, which respected only our
domestic affairs?


Man, born in a family, is compelled to maintain society from necessity,
from natural inclination, and from habit. The same creature, in his
further progress, is engaged to establish political society, in order to
administer justice, without which there can be no peace among them, nor
safety, nor mutual intercourse. We are, therefore, to look upon all the
vast apparatus of our government, as having ultimately no other object
or purpose but the distribution of justice, or, in other words, the
support of the twelve judges. Kings and parliaments, fleets and armies,
officers of the court and revenue, ambassadors, ministers, and privy
counsellors, are all subordinate in their end to this part of
administration. Even the clergy, as their duty leads them to inculcate
morality, may justly be thought, so far as regards this world, to have
no other useful object of their institution.

All men are sensible of the necessity of justice to maintain peace and
order; and all men are sensible of the necessity of peace and order for
the maintenance of society. Yet, notwithstanding this strong and obvious
necessity, such is the frailty or perverseness of our nature! it is
impossible to keep men faithfully and unerringly in the paths of
justice. Some extraordinary circumstances may happen, in which a man
finds his interests to be more promoted by fraud or rapine, than hurt by
the breach which his injustice makes in the social union. But much more
frequently he is seduced from his great and important, but distant
interests, by the allurement of present, though often very frivolous
temptations. This great weakness is incurable in human nature.

Men must, therefore, endeavour to palliate what they cannot cure. They
must institute some persons under the appellation of magistrates, whose
peculiar office it is to point out the decrees of equity, to punish
transgressors, to correct fraud and violence, and to oblige men, however
reluctant, to consult their own real and permanent interests. In a word,
obedience is a new duty which must be invented to support that of
justice, and the ties of equity must be corroborated by those of

But still, viewing matters in an abstract light, it may be thought that
nothing is gained by this alliance, and that the factitious duty of
obedience, from its very nature, lays as feeble a hold of the human
mind, as the primitive and natural duty of justice. Peculiar interests
and present temptations may overcome the one as well as the other. They
are equally exposed to the same inconvenience; and the man who is
inclined to be a bad neighbour, must be led by the same motives, well
or ill understood, to be a bad citizen or subject. Not to mention, that
the magistrate himself may often be negligent, or partial, or unjust in
his administration.

Experience, however, proves that there is a great difference between the
cases. Order in society, we find, is much better maintained by means of
government; and our duty to the magistrate is more strictly guarded by
the principles of human nature, than our duty to our fellow-citizens.
The love of dominion, is so strong in the breast of man, that many not
only submit to, but court all the dangers, and fatigues, and cares of
government; and men, once raised to that station, though often led
astray by private passions, find, in ordinary cases, a visible interest
in the impartial administration of justice. The persons who first attain
this distinction, by the consent, tacit or express, of the people, must
be endowed with superior personal qualities of valour, force, integrity,
or prudence, which command respect and confidence; and, after government
is established, a regard to birth, rank, and station, has a mighty
influence over men, and enforces the decrees of the magistrate. The
prince or leader exclaims against every disorder which disturbs his
society. He summons all his partisans and all men of probity to aid him
in correcting and redressing it, and he is readily followed by all
indifferent persons in the execution of his office. He soon acquires the
power of rewarding these services; and in the progress of society, he
establishes subordinate ministers, and often a military force, who find
an immediate and a visible interest in supporting his authority. Habit
soon consolidates what other principles of human nature had imperfectly
founded; and men, once accustomed to obedience, never think of departing
from that path, in which they and their ancestors have constantly trod,
and to which they are confined by so many urgent and visible motives.

But though this progress of human affairs may appear certain and
inevitable, and though the support which allegiance brings to justice be
founded on obvious principles of human nature, it cannot be expected
that men should beforehand be able to discover them, or foresee their
operation. Government commences more casually and more imperfectly. It
is probable, that the first ascendent of one man over multitudes began
during a state of war; where the superiority of courage and of genius
discovers itself most visibly, where unanimity and concert are most
requisite, and where the pernicious effects of disorder are most
sensibly felt. The long continuance of that state, an incident common
among savage tribes, inured the people to submission; and if the
chieftain possessed as much equity as prudence and valour, he became,
even during peace, the arbiter of all differences, and could gradually,
by a mixture of force and consent, establish his authority. The benefit
sensibly felt from his influence, made it be cherished by the people, at
least by the peaceable and well disposed among them; and if his son
enjoyed the same good qualities, government advanced the sooner to
maturity and perfection; but was still in a feeble state, till the
further progress of improvement procured the magistrate a revenue, and
enabled him to bestow rewards on the several instruments of his
administration, and to inflict punishments on the refractory and
disobedient. Before that period, each exertion of his influence must
have been particular, and founded on the peculiar circumstances of the
case. After it, submission was no longer a matter of choice in the bulk
of the community, but was rigorously exacted by the authority of the
supreme magistrate.

In all governments, there is a perpetual intestine struggle, open or
secret, between Authority and Liberty, and neither of them can ever
absolutely prevail in the contest. A great sacrifice of liberty must
necessarily be made in every government; yet even the authority, which
confines liberty, can never, and perhaps ought never, in any
constitution, to become quite entire and uncontrollable. The sultan is
master of the life and fortune of any individual; but will not be
permitted to impose new taxes on his subjects: a French monarch can
impose taxes at pleasure; but would find it dangerous to attempt the
lives and fortunes of individuals. Religion also, in most countries, is
commonly found to be a very intractable principle; and other principles
or prejudices frequently resist all the authority of the civil
magistrate; whose power, being founded on opinion, can never subvert
other opinions equally rooted with that of his title to dominion. The
government, which, in common appellation, receives the appellation of
free, is that which admits of a partition of power among several
members, whose united authority is no less, or is commonly greater, than
that of any monarch; but who, in the usual course of administration,
must act by general and equal laws, that are previously known to all the
members, and to all their subjects. In this sense, it must be owned,
that liberty is the perfection of civil society; but still authority
must be acknowledged essential to its very existence: and in those
contests which so often take place between the one and the other, the
latter may, on that account, challenge the preference. Unless perhaps
one may say (and it may be said with some reason) that a circumstance,
which is essential to the existence of civil society, must always
support itself, and needs be guarded with less jealousy, than one that
contributes only to its perfection, which the indolence of men is so apt
to neglect, or their ignorance to overlook.


Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving
any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controls of
the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a _knave_, and to have
no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this
interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him,
notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, cooperate to public
good. Without this, say they, we shall in vain boast of the advantages
of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no
security for our liberties or possessions, except the good-will of our
rulers; that is, we shall have no security at all.

It is, therefore, a just _political_ maxim, _that every man must be
supposed a knave_; though, at the same time, it appears somewhat
strange, that a maxim should be true in _politics_ which is false in
_fact_. But to satisfy us on this head, we may consider, that men are
generally more honest in their private than in their public capacity,
and will go greater lengths to serve a party, than when their own
private interest is alone concerned. Honour is a great check upon
mankind: but where a considerable body of men act together, this check
is in a great measure removed, since a man is sure to be approved of by
his own party, for what promotes the common interest; and he soon learns
to despise the clamours of adversaries. To which we may add, that every
court or senate is determined by the greater number of voices; so that,
if self-interest influences only the majority (as it will always do),
the whole senate follows the allurements of this separate interest, and
acts as if it contained not one member who had any regard to public
interest and liberty.

When there offers, therefore, to our censure and examination, any plan
of government, real or imaginary, where the power is distributed among
several courts, and several orders of men, we should always consider the
separate interest of each court, and each order; and if we find that, by
the skilful division of power, this interest must necessarily, in its
operation, concur with the public, we may pronounce that government to
be wise and happy. If, on the contrary, separate interest be not
checked, and be not directed to the public, we ought to look for nothing
but faction, disorder, and tyranny from such a government. In this
opinion I am justified by experience, as well as by the authority of
all philosophers and politicians, both ancient and modern.

How much, therefore, would it have surprised such a genius as Cicero or
Tacitus, to have been told, that in a future age there should arise a
very regular system of _mixed_ government, where the authority was so
distributed, that one rank, whenever it pleased, might swallow up all
the rest, and engross the whole power of the constitution! Such a
government, they would say, will not be a mixed government. For so great
is the natural ambition of men, that they are never satisfied with
power; and if one order of men, by pursuing its own interest, can usurp
upon every other order, it will certainly do so, and render itself, as
far as possible, absolute and uncontrollable.

But, in this opinion, experience shows they would have been mistaken.
For this is actually the case with the British constitution. The share
of power allotted by our constitution to the House of Commons, is so
great, that it absolutely commands all the other parts of the
government. The king's legislative power is plainly no proper check to
it. For though the king has a negative in framing laws, yet this, in
fact, is esteemed of so little moment, that whatever is voted by the two
Houses, is always sure to pass into a law, and the royal assent is
little better than a form. The principal weight of the crown lies in the
executive; power. But, besides that the executive power in every
government is altogether subordinate to the legislative; besides this, I
say, the exercise of this power requires an immense expense, and the
Commons have assumed to themselves the sole right of granting money. How
easy, therefore, would it be for that house to wrest from the crown all
these powers, one after another, by making every grant conditional, and
choosing their time so well, that their refusal of supply should only
distress the government, without giving foreign powers any advantage
over us! Did the House of Commons depend in the same manner upon the
king, and had none of the members any property but from his gift, would
not he command all their resolutions, and be from that moment absolute?
As to the House of Lords, they are a very powerful support to the crown,
so long as they are, in their turn, supported by it; but both experience
and reason show, that they have no force or authority sufficient to
maintain themselves alone, without such support.

How, therefore, shall we solve this paradox? And by what means is this
member of our constitution confined within the proper limits, since,
from our very constitution, it must necessarily have as much power as it
demands, and can only be confined by itself? How is this consistent with
our experience of human nature? I answer, that the interest of the body
is here restrained by that of the individuals, and that the House of
Commons stretches not its power, because such an usurpation would be
contrary to the interest of the majority of its members. The crown has
so many offices at its disposal, that, when assisted by the honest and
disinterested part of the House, it will always command the resolutions
of the whole, so far, at least, as to preserve the ancient constitution
from danger. We may, therefore, give to this influence what name we
please; we may call it by the invidious appellations of _corruption_ and
_dependence_; but some degree and some kind of it are inseparable from
the very nature of the constitution, and necessary to the preservation
of our mixed government.

Instead, then, of asserting absolutely, that the dependence of
parliament, in every degree, is an infringement of British liberty, the
country party should have made some concessions to their adversaries,
and have only examined what was the proper degree of this dependence,
beyond which it became dangerous to liberty. But such a moderation is
not to be expected in party men of any kind. After a concession of this
nature, all declamation must be abandoned; and a calm inquiry into the
proper degree of court influence and parliamentary dependence would have
been expected by the readers. And though the advantage, in such a
controversy, might possibly remain to the _country party_, yet the
victory would not be so complete as they wish for, nor would a true
patriot have given an entire loose to his zeal, for fear of running
matters into a contrary extreme, by diminishing too[2] far the
influence of the crown. It was, therefore, thought best to deny that
this extreme could ever be dangerous to the constitution, or that the
crown could ever have too little influence over members of parliament.

All questions concerning the proper medium between extremes are
difficult to be decided; both because it is not easy to find _words_
proper to fix this medium, and because the good and ill, in such cases,
run so gradually into each other, as even to render our _sentiments_
doubtful and uncertain. But there is a peculiar difficulty in the
present case, which would embarrass the most knowing and most impartial
examiner. The power of the crown is always lodged in a single person,
either king or minister; and as this person may have either a greater or
less degree of ambition, capacity, courage, popularity, or fortune, the
power, which is too great in one hand, may become too little in another.
In pure republics, where the authority is distributed among several
assemblies or senates, the checks and controls are more regular in their
operation; because the members of such numerous assemblies may be
presumed to be always nearly equal in capacity and virtue; and it is
only their number, riches, or authority, which enter into consideration.
But a limited monarchy admits not of any such stability; nor is it
possible to assign to the crown such a determinate degree of power, as
will, in every hand, form a proper counterbalance to the other parts of
the constitution. This is an unavoidable disadvantage, among the many
advantages attending that species of government.

[1] I have frequently observed, in comparing the conduct of the _court_
and _country_ party, that the former are commonly less assuming and
dogmatical in conversation, more apt to make concessions, and though
not, perhaps, more susceptible of conviction, yet more able to bear
contradiction than the latter, who are apt to fly out upon any
opposition, and to regard one as a mercenary, designing fellow, if he
argues with any coolness and impartiality, or makes any concessions to
their adversaries. This is a fact, which, I believe, every one may have
observed who has been much in companies where political questions have
been discussed; though, were one to ask the reason of this difference,
every party would be apt to assign a different reason. Gentlemen in the
_opposition_ will ascribe it to the very nature of their party, which,
being founded on public spirit, and a zeal for the constitution, cannot
easily endure such doctrines as are of pernicious consequence to
liberty. The courtiers, on the other hand, will be apt to put us in mind
of the clown mentioned by Lord Shaftesbury. 'A clown,' says that
excellent author, 'once took a fancy to hear the _Latin_ disputes of
doctors at an university. He was asked what pleasure he could take in
viewing such combatants, when he could never know so much as which of
the parties had the better.'--_'For that matter,'_ replied the clown,
_'I a'n't such a fool neither, but I can see who's the first that puts
t'other into a passion.'_ Nature herself dictated this lesson to the
clown, that he who had the better of the argument would be easy and well
humoured: but he who was unable to support his cause by reason would
naturally lose his temper, and grow violent.

To which of these reasons will we adhere? To neither of them, in my
opinion, unless we have a mind to enlist ourselves and become zealots in
either party. I believe I can assign the reason of this different
conduct of the two parties, without offending either. The country party
are plainly most popular at present, and perhaps have been so in most
administrations so that, being accustomed to prevail in company, they
cannot endure to hear their opinions controverted, but are so confident
on the public favour, as if they were supported in all their sentiments
by the most infallible demonstration. The courtiers, on the other hand,
are Commonly run down by your popular talkers, that if you speak to them
with any moderation, or make them the smallest concessions, they think
themselves extremely obliged to you, and are apt to return the favour by
a like moderation and facility on their part. To be furious and
passionate, they know, would only gain them the character of shameless
mercenaries, not that of zealous patriots, which is the character that
such a warm behaviour is apt to acquire to the other party.

In all controversies, we find, without regarding the truth or falsehood
on either side, that those who defend the established and popular
opinions are always most dogmatical and imperious in their style: while
their adversaries affect almost extraordinary gentleness and moderation,
in order to soften, as much as possible, any prejudices that may be
Against them. Consider the behaviour of our _Freethinkers_ of all
denominations, whether they be such as decry all revelation, or only
oppose the exorbitant power of the clergy, Collins, Tindal, Foster,
Hoadley. Compare their moderation and good manners with the furious zeal
and scurrility of their adversaries, and you will be convinced of the
truth of my observation. A like difference may be observed in the
conduct of those French writers, who maintained the controversy with
regard to ancient and modern learning. Boileau, Monsieur and Madame
Dacier, l'Abbé de Bos, who defended the party of the ancients, mixed
their reasonings with satire and invective, while Fontenelle, la Motte,
Charpentier, and even Perrault, never transgressed the bounds of
moderation and good breeding, though provoked by the most injurious
treatment of their adversaries.

I must however observe, that this remark with regard to the seeming
moderation of the _court_ party, is entirely confined to conversation,
and to gentlemen who have been engaged by interest or inclination in
that party. For as to the court writers, being commonly hired
scribblers, they are altogether as scurrilous as the mercenaries of the
other party: nor has the _Gazetteer_ any advantage, in this respect,
above common sense. A man of education will, in any party, discover
himself to be such by his goodbreeding and decency, as a scoundrel will
always betray the opposite qualities. _The false accusers accused_, &c.
is very scurrilous, though that side of the question, being least
popular, should be defended with most moderation. When L--d B--e, L--d
M--t, Mr. L--n, take the pen in hand, though they write with warmth,
they presume not upon their popularity so far as to transgress the
bounds of decency.

I am led into this train of reflection by considering some papers wrote
upon that grand topic of _court influence and parliamentary dependence_,
where, in my humble opinion, the country party show too rigid an
inflexibility, and too great a jealousy of making concessions to their
adversaries. Their reasonings lose their force by being carried too far
and the popularity of their opinions has seduced them to neglect in some
measure their justness and solidity. The following reasoning will, I
hope, serve to justify me in this opinion.

[2] By that _influence of the crown_, which I would justify, I mean only
that which arises from the offices and honours that are at the disposal
of the crown. As to private _bribery_, it may be considered in the same
light as the practice of employing spies, which is scarcely justifiable
in a good minister, and is infamous in a bad one; but to be a spy, or to
be corrupted, is always infamous under all ministers, and is to be
regarded as a shameless prostitution. Polybius justly esteems the
pecuniary influence of the senate and censors to be one of the regular
and constitutional weights which preserved the balance of the Roman
government.--Lib. vi. cap. 15.


It affords a violent prejudice against almost every science, that no
prudent man, however sure of his principles, dares prophesy concerning
any event, or foretell the remote consequences of things. A physician
will not venture to pronounce concerning the condition of his patient a
fortnight or a month after: and still less dares a politician foretell
the situation of public affairs a few years hence. Harrington thought
himself so sure of his general principle, _that the balance of power
depends on that of property_, that he ventured to pronounce it
impossible ever to reestablish monarchy in England: but his book was
scarcely published when the king was restored; and we see that monarchy
has ever since subsisted upon the same footing as before.
Notwithstanding this unlucky example, I will venture to examine an
important question, to wit, _Whether the British Government inclines
more to absolute monarchy or to a republic; and in which of these two
species of government it will most probably terminate?_ As there seems
not to be any great danger of a sudden revolution either way, I shall
at least escape the shame attending my temerity, if I should be found to
have been mistaken.

Those who assert that the balance of our government inclines towards
absolute monarchy, may support their opinion by the following reasons:
That property has a great influence on power cannot possibly be denied;
but yet the general maxim, _that the balance of the one depends on the
balance of the other_, must be received with several limitations. It is
evident, that much less property in a single hand will be able to
counterbalance a greater property in several; not only because it is
difficult to make many persons combine in the same views and measures,
but because property, when united, causes much greater dependence than
the same property when dispersed. A hundred persons of £1,000 a year
apiece, can consume all their income, and nobody shall ever be the
better for them, except their servants and tradesmen, who justly regard
their profits as the product of their own labour. But a man possessed of
£100,000 a year, if he has either any generosity or any cunning, may
create a great dependence by obligations, and still a greater by
expectations. Hence we may observe, that, in all free governments, any
subject exorbitantly rich has always created jealousy, even though his
riches bore no proportion to those of the state. Crassus's fortune, if I
remember well, amounted only to about two millions and a half of our
money; yet we find, that though his genius was nothing extraordinary,
he was able, by means of his riches alone, to counterbalance, during his
lifetime, the power of Pompey, as well as that of Cæsar, who afterwards
became master of the world. The wealth of the Medici made them masters
of Florence, though it is probable it was not considerable, compared to
the united property of that opulent republic.

These considerations are apt to make one entertain a magnificent idea of
the British spirit and love of liberty, since we could maintain our free
government, during so many centuries, against our sovereigns, who,
besides the power, and dignity, and majesty of the crown, have always
been possessed of much more property than any subject has ever enjoyed
in any commonwealth. But it may be said that this spirit, however great,
will never be able to support itself against that immense property which
is now lodged in the king, and which is still increasing. Upon a
moderate computation, there are near three millions a year at the
disposal of the crown. The civil list amounts to near a million; the
collection of all taxes to another; and the employments in the army and
navy, together with ecclesiastical preferments, to above a third
million:--an enormous sum, and what may fairly be computed to be more
than a thirtieth part of the whole income and labour of the kingdom.
When we add to this great property the increasing luxury of the nation,
our proneness to corruption, together with the great power and
prerogatives of the crown, and the command of military force, there is
no one but must despair of being able, without extraordinary efforts, to
support our free government much longer under these disadvantages.

On the other hand, those who maintain that the bias of the British
government leans towards a republic, may support their opinions by
specious arguments. It may be said, that though this immense property in
the crown be joined to the dignity of first magistrate, and to many
other legal powers and prerogatives, which should naturally give it
greater influence; yet it really becomes less dangerous to liberty upon
that very account. Were England a republic, and were any private man
possessed of a revenue, a third, or even a tenth part as large as that
of the crown, he would very justly excite jealousy; because he would
infallibly have great authority in the government. And such an irregular
authority, not avowed by the laws, is always more dangerous than a much
greater authority derived from them. A man possessed of usurped power
can set no bounds to his pretensions: his partisans have liberty to hope
for every thing in his favour: his enemies provoke his ambition with his
fears, by the violence of their opposition: and the government being
thrown into a ferment, every corrupted humour in the state naturally
gathers to him. On the contrary, a legal authority, though great, has
always some bounds, which terminate both the hopes and pretensions of
the person possessed of it: the laws must have provided a remedy against
its excesses: such an eminent magistrate has much to fear, and little to
hope, from his usurpations: and as his legal authority is quietly
submitted to, he has small temptation and small opportunity of extending
it further. Besides, it happens, with regard to ambitious aims and
projects, what may be observed with regard to sects of philosophy and
religion. A new sect excites such a ferment, and is both opposed and
defended with such vehemence, that it always spreads faster, and
multiplies its partisans with greater rapidity than any old established
opinion, recommended by the sanction of the laws and of antiquity. Such
is the nature of novelty, that, where any thing pleases, it becomes
doubly agreeable, if new: but if it displeases, it is doubly displeasing
upon that very account. And, in most cases, the violence of enemies is
favourable to ambitious projects, as well as the zeal of partisans.

It may further be said, that, though men be much governed by interest,
yet even interest itself, and all human affairs, are entirely governed
by _opinion_. Now, there has been a sudden and sensible change in the
opinions of men within these last fifty years, by the progress of
learning and of liberty. Most people in this Island have divested
themselves of all superstitious reverence to names and authority: the
clergy have much lost their credit: their pretensions and doctrines
have been ridiculed; and even religion can scarcely support itself in
the world. The mere name of _king_ commands little respect; and to talk
of a king as God's vicegerent on earth, or to give him any of those
magnificent titles which formerly dazzled mankind, would but excite
laughter in every one. Though the crown, by means of its large revenue,
may maintain its authority, in times of tranquillity, upon private
interest and influence, yet, as the least shock or convulsion must break
all these interests to pieces, the royal power, being no longer
supported by the settled principles and opinions of men, will
immediately dissolve. Had men been in the same disposition at the
_Revolution_, as they are at present, monarchy would have run a great
risk of being entirely lost in this Island.

Durst I venture to deliver my own sentiments amidst these opposite
arguments, I would assert, that, unless there happen some extraordinary
convulsion, the power of the crown, by means of its large revenue, is
rather upon the increase; though at the same time, I own that its
progress seems very slow, and almost insensible. The tide has run long,
and with some rapidity, to the side of popular government, and is just
beginning to turn towards monarchy.

It is well known, that every government must come to a period, and that
death is unavoidable to the political, as well as to the animal body.
But, as one kind of death may be preferable to another, it may be
inquired, whether it be more desirable for the British constitution to
terminate in a popular government, or in an absolute monarchy? Here I
would frankly declare, that though liberty be preferable to slavery, in
almost every case; yet I should rather wish to see an absolute monarch
than a republic in this Island. For let us consider what kind of
republic we have reason to expect. The question is not concerning any
fine imaginary republic, of which a man forms a plan in his closet.
There is no doubt but a popular government may be imagined more perfect
than an absolute monarchy, or even than our present constitution. But
what reason have we to expect that any such government will ever be
established in Great Britain, upon the dissolution of our monarchy? If
any single person acquire power enough to take our constitution to
pieces, and put it up anew, he is really an absolute monarch; and we
have already had an instance of this kind, sufficient to convince us,
that such a person will never resign his power, or establish any free
government. Matters, therefore, must be trusted to their natural
progress and operation; and the House of Commons, according to its
present constitution, must be the only legislature in such a popular
government. The inconveniences attending such a situation of affairs
present themselves by thousands. If the House of Commons, in such a
case, ever dissolve itself, which is not to be expected, we may look for
a civil war every election. If it continue itself, we shall suffer all
the tyranny of a faction sub-divided into new factions. And, as such a
violent government cannot long subsist, we shall, at last, after many
convulsions and civil wars, find repose in absolute monarchy, which it
would have been happier for us to have established peaceably from the
beginning. Absolute monarchy, therefore, is the easiest death, the true
_Euthanasia_ of the British constitution.

Thus, if we have reason to be more jealous of monarchy, because the
danger is more imminent from that quarter; we have also reason to be
more jealous of popular government, because that danger is more
terrible. This may teach us a lesson of moderation in all our political


Of all men that distinguish themselves by memorable achievements, the
first place of honour seems due to LEGISLATORS and founders of states,
who transmit a system of laws and institutions to secure the peace,
happiness, and liberty of future generations. The influence of useful
inventions in the arts and sciences may, perhaps, extend further than
that of wise laws, whose effects are limited both in time and place; but
the benefit arising from the former is not so sensible as that which
results from the latter. Speculative sciences do, indeed, improve the
mind, but this advantage reaches only to a few persons, who have leisure
to apply themselves to them. And as to practical arts, which increase
the commodities and enjoyments of life, it is well known that men's
happiness consists not so much in an abundance of these, as in the peace
and security with which they possess them: and those blessings can only
be derived from good government. Not to mention, that general virtue and
good morals in a state, which are so requisite to happiness, can never
arise from the most refined precepts of philosophy, or even the severest
injunctions of religion; but must proceed entirely from the virtuous
education of youth, the effect of wise laws and institutions. I must,
therefore, presume to differ from Lord Bacon in this particular, and
must regard antiquity as somewhat unjust in its distribution of honours,
when it made gods of all the inventors of useful arts, such as Ceres,
Bacchus, Æsculapius and dignified legislators, such as Romulus and
Theseus, only with the appellation of demigods and heroes.

As much as legislators and founders of states ought to be honoured and
respected among men, as much ought the founders of sects and factions to
be detested and hated; because the influence of faction is directly
contrary to that of laws. Factions subvert government, render laws
impotent, and beget the fiercest animosities among men of the same
nation, who ought to give mutual assistance and protection to each
other. And what should render the founders of parties more odious, is
the difficulty of extirpating these weeds, when once they have taken
root in any state. They naturally propagate themselves for many
centuries, and seldom end but by the total dissolution of that
government, in which they are sown. They are, besides, plants which grow
most plentiful in the richest soil; and though absolute governments be
not wholly free from them, it must be confessed, that they rise more
easily, and propagate themselves faster in free governments, where they
always infect the legislature itself, which alone could be able, by the
steady application of rewards and punishments, to eradicate them.

Factions may be divided into Personal and Real; that is, into factions
founded on personal friendship or animosity among such as compose the
contending parties, and into those founded on some real difference of
sentiment or interest. The reason of this distinction is obvious, though
I must acknowledge, that parties are seldom found pure and unmixed,
either of the one kind or the other. It is not often seen, that a
government divides into factions, where there is no difference in the
views of the constituent members, either real or apparent, trivial or
material: and in those factions, which are founded on the most real and
most material difference, there is always observed a great deal of
personal animosity or affection. But notwithstanding this mixture, a
party may be denominated either personal or real, according to that
principle which is predominant, and is found to have the greatest

Personal factions arise most easily in small republics. Every domestic
quarrel, there, becomes an affair of state. Love, vanity, emulation, any
passion, as well as ambition and resentment, begets public division. The
NERI and BIANCHI of Florence, the FREGOSI and ADORNI of Genoa, the
COLONNESI and ORSINI of modern Rome, were parties of this kind.

Men have such a propensity to divide into personal factions, that the
smallest appearance of real difference will produce them. What can be
imagined more trivial than the difference between one colour of livery
and another in horse races? Yet this difference begat two most
inveterate factions in the Greek empire, the PRASINI and VENETI, who
never suspended their animosities till they ruined that unhappy

We find in the Roman history a remarkable dissension between two tribes,
the POLLIA and PAPIRIA, which continued for the space of near three
hundred years, and discovered itself in their suffrages at every
election of magistrates. This faction was the more remarkable, as it
could continue for so long a tract of time; even though it did not
spread itself, nor draw any of the other tribes into a share of the
quarrel. If mankind had not a strong propensity to such divisions, the
indifference of the rest of the community must have suppressed this
foolish animosity, that had not any aliment of new benefits and
injuries, of general sympathy and antipathy, which never fail to take
place, when the whole state is rent into equal factions.

Nothing is more usual than to see parties, which have begun upon a real
difference, continue even after that difference is lost. When men are
once enlisted on opposite sides, they contract an affection to the
persons with whom they are united, and an animosity against their
antagonists; and these passions they often transmit to their posterity.
The real difference between Guelf and Ghibelline was long lost in
Italy, before these factions were extinguished. The Guelfs adhered to
the pope, the Ghibellines to the emperor; yet the family of Sforza, who
were in alliance with the emperor, though they were Guelfs, being
expelled Milan by the king of France, assisted by Jacomo Trivulzio and
the Ghibellines, the pope concurred with the latter, and they formed
leagues with the pope against the emperor.

The civil wars which arose some few years ago in Morocco between the
_Blacks_ and _Whites_, merely on account of their complexion, are
founded on a pleasant difference. We laugh at them; but, I believe, were
things rightly examined, we afford much more occasion of ridicule to the
Moors. For, what are all the wars of religion, which have prevailed in
this polite and knowing part of the world? They are certainly more
absurd than the Moorish civil wars. The difference of complexion is a
sensible and a real difference; but the controversy about an article of
faith, which is utterly absurd and unintelligible, is not a difference
in sentiment, but in a few phrases and expressions, which one party
accepts of without understanding them, and the other refuses in the same

_Real_ factions may be divided into those from _interest_, from
_principle_, and from _affection_. Of all factions, the first are the
most reasonable, and the most excusable. Where two orders of men, such
as the nobles and people, have a distinct authority in a government, not
very accurately balanced and modelled, they naturally follow a distinct
interest; nor can we reasonably expect a different conduct, considering
that degree of selfishness implanted in human nature. It requires great
skill in a legislator to prevent such parties; and many philosophers are
of opinion, that this secret, like the _grand elixir_, or _perpetual
motion_, may amuse men in theory, but can never possibly be reduced to
practice. In despotic governments, indeed, factions often do not appear;
but they are not the less real; or rather, they are more real and more
pernicious upon that very account. The distinct orders of men, nobles
and people, soldiers and merchants, have all a distinct interest; but
the more powerful oppresses the weaker with impunity, and without
resistance; which begets a seeming tranquillity in such governments.

There has been an attempt in England to divide the _landed_ and
_trading_ part of the nation; but without success. The interests of
these two bodies are not really distinct, and never will be so, till our
public debts increase to such a degree as to become altogether
oppressive and intolerable.

Parties from _principle_, especially abstract speculative principle,
are known only to modern times, and are, perhaps, the most extraordinary
and unaccountable _phenomenon_ that has yet appeared in human affairs.
Where different principles beget a contrariety of conduct, which is the
case with all different political principles, the matter may be more
easily explained. A man who esteems the true right of government to lie
in one man, or one family, cannot easily agree with his fellow-citizen,
who thinks that another man or family is possessed of this right. Each
naturally wishes that right may take place, according to his own notions
of it. But where the difference of principle is attended with no
contrariety of action, but every one may follow his own way, without
interfering with his neighbour, as happens in all religious
controversies, what madness, what fury, can beget such an unhappy and
such fatal divisions?

Two men travelling on the highway, the one east, the other west, can
easily pass each other, if the way be broad enough: but two men,
reasoning upon opposite principles of religion, cannot so easily pass,
without shocking, though one should think, that the way were also, in
that case, sufficiently broad and that each might proceed, without
interruption, in his own course. But such is the nature of the human
mind, that it always lays hold on every mind that approaches it; and as
it is wonderfully fortified by an unanimity of sentiments, so it is
shocked and disturbed by any contrariety. Hence the eagerness which
most people discover in a dispute; and hence their impatience of
opposition, even in the most speculative and indifferent opinions.

This principle, however frivolous it may appear, seems to have been the
origin of all religious wars and divisions. But as this principle is
universal in human nature, its effects would not have been confined to
one age, and to one sect of religion, did it not there concur with other
more accidental causes, which raise it to such a height as to produce
the greatest misery and devastation. Most religions of the ancient world
arose in the unknown ages of government, when men were as yet barbarous
and uninstructed, and the prince, as well as peasant, was disposed to
receive, with implicit faith, every pious tale or fiction which was
offered him. The magistrate embraced the religion of the people, and,
entering cordially into the care of sacred matters, naturally acquired
an authority in them, and united the ecclesiastical with the civil
power. But the _Christian_ religion arising, while principles directly
opposite to it were firmly established in the polite part of the world,
who despised the nation that first broached this novelty; no wonder
that, in such circumstances, it was but little countenanced by the civil
magistrate, and that the priesthood was allowed to engross all the
authority in the new sect. So bad a use did they make of this power,
even in those early times, that the primitive persecutions may, perhaps
_in part_,[2] be ascribed to the violence instilled by them into their

And the same principles of priestly government continuing, after
Christianity became the established religion, they have engendered a
spirit of persecution, which has ever since been the poison of human
society, and the source of the most inveterate factions in every
government. Such divisions, therefore, on the part of the people, may
justly be esteemed factions of _principle_, but, on the part of the
priests, who are the prime movers, they are really factions of

There is another cause (beside the authority of the priests, and the
separation of the ecclesiastical and civil powers), which has
contributed to render Christendom the scene of religious wars and
divisions. Religions that arise in ages totally ignorant and barbarous,
consist mostly of traditional tales and fictions, which may be different
in every sect, without being contrary to each other; and even when they
are contrary, every one adheres to the tradition of his own sect,
without much reasoning or disputation. But as philosophy was widely
spread over the world at the time when Christianity arose, the teachers
of the new sect were obliged to form a system of speculative opinions,
to divide, with some accuracy, their articles of faith, and to explain,
comment, confute, and defend, with all the subtlety of argument and
science. Hence naturally arose keenness in dispute, when the Christian
religion came to be split into new divisions and heresies: and this
keenness assisted the priests in the policy of begetting a mutual hatred
and antipathy among their deluded followers. Sects of philosophy, in the
ancient world, were more zealous than parties of religion; but, in
modern times, parties of religion are more furious and enraged than the
most cruel factions that ever arose from interest and ambition.

I have mentioned parties from _affection_ as a kind of _real_ parties,
beside those from _interest_ and _principle_. By parties from affection,
I understand those which are founded on the different attachments of men
towards particular families and persons whom they desire to rule over
them. These factions are often very violent; though, I must own, it may
seem unaccountable that men should attach themselves so strongly to
persons with whom they are nowise acquainted, whom perhaps they never
saw, and from whom they never received, nor can ever hope for, any
favour. Yet this we often find to be the case, and even with men, who,
on other occasions, discover no great generosity of spirit, nor are
found to be easily transported by friendship beyond their own interest.
We are apt to think the relation between us and our sovereign very close
and intimate. The splendour of majesty and power bestows an importance
on the fortunes even of a single person. And when a man's good-nature
does not give him this imaginary interest, his ill-nature will, from
spite and opposition to persons whose sentiments are different from his

[1] Besides I do not find that the _Whites_ in Morocco ever imposed on
the Blacks any necessity pi altering their complexion, or frightened
them with inquisitions and penal laws in case of obstinacy. Nor have the
Blacks been more unreasonable in this particular. But is a man's
opinion, where he is able to form a real opinion, more at his disposal
than his complexion? And can one be induced by force or fear to do more
than paint and disguise in the one case as well as in the other.

[2] I say _in part_; for it is a vulgar error to imagine, that the
ancients were as great friends to toleration as the English or Dutch are
at present. The laws against external superstition, among the Romans,
were as ancient as the time of the Twelve Tables; and the Jews, as well
as Christians, were sometimes punished by them; though, in general,
these laws were not rigorously executed. Immediately after the conquest
of Gaul, they forbade all but the natives to be initiated into the
religion of the Druids; and this was a kind of persecution. In about a
century after this conquest, the emperor Claudius quite abolished that
superstition by penal laws; which would have been a very grievous
persecution, if the imitation of the Roman manners had not, beforehand,
weaned the Gauls from their ancient prejudices. Suetonius _in vita
Claudii_. Pliny ascribes the abolition of the Druidical superstitions to
Tiberius, probably because that emperor had taken some steps towards
restraining them (lib. xxx. cap. i). This is an instance of the usual
caution and moderation of the Romans in such cases; and very different
from their violent and sanguinary method of treating the Christians.
Hence we may entertain a suspicion, that those furious persecutions of
_Christianity_ were in some measure owing to the imprudent zeal and
bigotry of the first propagators of that sect; and ecclesiastical
history affords us many reasons to confirm this suspicion.


Were the British government proposed as a subject of speculation, one
would immediately perceive in it a source of division and party, which
it would be almost impossible for it, under any administration, to
avoid. The just balance between the republican and monarchical part of
our constitution is really in itself so extremely delicate and
uncertain, that, when joined to men's passions and prejudices, it is
impossible but different opinions must arise concerning it, even among
persons of the best understanding. Those of mild tempers, who love peace
and order, and detest sedition and civil wars, will always entertain
more favourable sentiments of monarchy than men of bold and generous
spirits, who are passionate lovers of liberty, and think no evil
comparable to subjection and slavery. And though all reasonable men
agree in general to preserve our mixed government, yet, when they come
to particulars, some will incline to trust greater powers to the crown,
to bestow on it more influence, and to guard against its encroachments
with less caution, than others who are terrified at the most distant
approaches of tyranny and despotic power. Thus are there parties of
PRINCIPLE involved in the very nature of our constitution, which may
properly enough he denominated those of COURT and COUNTRY.[1] The
strength and violence of each of these parties will much depend upon the
particular administration. An administration may be so bad, as to throw
a great majority into the opposition; as a good administration will
reconcile to the court many of the most passionate lovers of liberty.
But however the nation may fluctuate between them, the parties
themselves will always subsist, so long as we are governed by a limited

But, besides this difference of _Principle_, those parties are very much
fomented by a difference of INTEREST, without which they could scarcely
ever be dangerous or violent. The crown will naturally bestow all trust
and power upon those whose principles, real or pretended, are most
favourable to monarchical government; and this temptation will naturally
engage them to go greater lengths than their principles would otherwise
carry them. Their antagonists, who are disappointed in their ambitious
aims, throw themselves into the party whose sentiments incline them to
be most jealous of royal power, and naturally carry those sentiments to
a greater height than sound politics will justify. Thus _Court_ and
_Country_, which are the genuine offspring of the British government,
are a kind of mixed parties, and are influenced both by principle and by
interest. The heads of the factions are commonly most governed by the
latter motive; the inferior members of them by the former.[2]

As to ecclesiastical parties, we may observe, that, in all ages of the
world, priests have been enemies to liberty;[3] and, it is certain, that
this steady conduct of theirs must have been founded on fixed reasons of
interest and ambition. Liberty of thinking, and of expressing our
thoughts, is always fatal to priestly power, and to those pious frauds
on which it is commonly founded; and, by an infallible connection, which
prevails among all kinds of liberty, this privilege can never be
enjoyed, at least has never yet been enjoyed, but in a free government.
Hence it must happen, in such a constitution as that of Great Britain,
that the established clergy, while things are in their natural
situation, will always be of the _Court_ party; as, on the contrary,
dissenters of all kinds will be of the _Country_ party; since they can
never hope for that toleration which they stand in need of, but by means
of our free government. All princes that have aimed at despotic power
have known of what importance it was to gain the established clergy; as
the clergy, on their part, have shown a great facility in entering into
the views of such princes. Gustavus Vasa was, perhaps, the only
ambitious monarch that ever depressed the church, at the same time that
he discouraged liberty. But the exorbitant power of the bishops in
Sweden, who at that time overtopped the crown itself, together with
their attachment to a foreign family, was the reason of his embracing
such an unusual system of politics.

This observation, concerning propensity of priests to the government of
a single person, is not true with regard to one sect only. The
_Presbyterian_ and _Calvinistic_ clergy in Holland, were professed
friends to the family of Orange; as the _Arminians_, who were esteemed
heretics, were of the Louvestein faction, and zealous for liberty. But
if a prince have the choice of both, it is easy to see that he will
prefer the Episcopal to the Presbyterian form of government, both
because of the greater affinity between monarchy and episcopacy, and
because of the facility which he will find, in such a government, of
ruling the clergy by means of their ecclesiastical superiors.

If we consider the first rise of parties in England, during the great
rebellion, we shall observe that it was conformable to this general
theory, and that the species of government gave birth to them by a
regular and infallible operation. The English constitution, before that
period, had lain in a kind of confusion, yet so as that the subjects
possessed many noble privileges, which, though not exactly bounded and
secured by law, were universally deemed, from long possession, to belong
to them as their birthright. An ambitious, or rather a misguided, prince
arose, who deemed all these privileges to be concessions of his
predecessors, revocable at pleasure; and, in prosecution of this
principle, he openly acted in violation of liberty during the course of
several years. Necessity, at last, constrained him to call a parliament;
the spirit of liberty arose and spread itself; the prince, being without
any support, was obliged to grant every thing required of him; and his
enemies, jealous and implacable, set no bounds to their pretensions.
Here, then, began those contests in which it was no wonder that men of
that age were divided into different parties; since, even at this day,
the impartial are at a loss to decide concerning the justice of the
quarrel. The pretensions of the parliament, if yielded to, broke the
balance of the constitution, by rendering the government almost
entirely republican. If not yielded to, the nation was, perhaps, still
in danger of absolute power, from the settled principles and inveterate
habits of the king, which had plainly appeared in every concession that
he had been constrained to make to his people. In this question, so
delicate and uncertain, men naturally fell to the side which was most
conformable to their usual principles; and the more passionate favourers
of monarchy declared for the king, as the zealous friends of liberty
sided with the parliament. The hopes of success being nearly equal on
both sides, _interest_ had no general influence in this contest; so that
ROUNDHEAD and CAVALIER were merely parties of principle, neither of
which disowned either monarchy or liberty; but the former party inclined
most to the republican part of our government, the latter to the
monarchical. In this respect, they may be considered as court and
country party, inflamed into a civil war, by an unhappy concurrence of
circumstances, and by the turbulent spirit of the age. The
commonwealth's men, and the partisans of absolute power, lay concealed
in both parties, and formed but an inconsiderable part of them.

The clergy had concurred with the king's arbitrary designs; and, in
return, were allowed to persecute their adversaries, whom they called
heretics and schismatics. The established clergy were Episcopal, the
nonconformists Presbyterian; so that all things concurred to throw the
former, without reserve, into the king's party, and the latter into
that of the parliament.[4]

Every one knows the event of this quarrel; fatal to the king first, to
the parliament afterwards. After many confusions and revolutions, the
royal family was at last restored, and the ancient government
reestablished. Charles II was not made wiser by the example of his
father, but prosecuted the same measures, though, at first, with more
secrecy and caution. New parties arose, under the appellation of _Whig_
and _Tory_, which have continued ever since to confound and distract our
government. To determine the nature of these parties is perhaps one of
the most difficult problems that can be met with, and is a proof that
history may contain questions as uncertain as any to be found in the
most abstract sciences. We have seen the conduct of the two parties,
during the course of seventy years, in a vast variety of circumstances,
possessed of power, and deprived of it, during peace, and during war:
persons, who profess themselves of one side or other, we meet with
every hour, in company, in our pleasures, in our serious occupations we
ourselves are constrained, in a manner, to take party; and, living in a
country of the highest liberty, every one may openly declare all the
sentiments and opinions: yet are we at a loss to tell the nature,
pretensions, and principles, of the different factions.[5]

When we compare the parties of WHIG and TORY with those of ROUNDHEAD and
CAVALIER, the most obvious difference that appears between them consists
in the principles of _passive obedience_, and _indefeasible right_,
which were but little heard of among the Cavaliers, but became the
universal doctrine, and were esteemed the true characteristic of a Tory.
Were these principles pushed into their most obvious consequences, they
imply a formal renunciation of all our liberties, and an avowal of
absolute monarchy; since nothing can be greater absurdity than a limited
power, which must not be resisted, even when it exceeds its limitations.
But, as the most rational principles are often but a weak counterpoise
to passion, it is no wonder that these absurd principles were found too
weak for that effect. The Tories, as men, were enemies to oppression;
and also as Englishmen, they were enemies to arbitrary power. Their zeal
for liberty was, perhaps, less fervent than that of their antagonists,
but was sufficient to make them forget all their general principles,
when they saw themselves openly threatened with a subversion of the
ancient government. From these sentiments arose the _Revolution_, an
event of mighty consequence, and the firmest foundation of British
liberty. The conduct of the Tories during that event, and after it, will
afford us a true insight into the nature of that party.

In the _first_ place, they appear to have had the genuine sentiments of
Britons in their affection for liberty, and in their determined
resolution not to sacrifice it to any abstract principle whatsoever, or
to any imaginary rights of princes. This part of their character might
justly have been doubted of before the Revolution, from the obvious
tendency of their avowed principles, and from their compliances with a
court, which seemed to make little secret of its arbitrary designs. The
Revolution showed them to have been, in this respect, nothing but a
genuine _court party_, such as might be expected in a British
government; that is, _lovers of liberty, but greater lovers of
monarchy_. It must, however, be confessed, that they carried their
monarchical principles further even in practice, but more so in theory,
than was in any degree ¦consistent with a limited government.

_Secondly_, Neither their principles nor affections concurred, entirely
or heartily, with the settlement made at the _Revolution_, or with that
which has since taken place. This part of their character may seem
opposite to the former, since any other settlement, in those
circumstances of the nation, must probably have been dangerous, if not
fatal, to liberty. But the heart of man is made to reconcile
contradictions; and this contradiction is not greater than that between
_passive obedience_ and the _resistance_ employed at the Revolution. A
TORY, therefore, since the _Revolution_, may be defined, in a few words,
to be a _lover of monarchy, though without abandoning liberty, and a
partisan of the family of Stuart_: _as a WHIG may be defined to be a
lover of liberty, though without renouncing monarchy, and a friend to
the settlement in the Protestant line._[6]

These different views, with regard to the settlement of the crown, were
accidental, but natural, additions, to the principles of the _Court_
and _Country_ parties, which are the genuine divisions in the British
Government. A passionate lover of monarchy is apt to be displeased at
any change of the succession, as savouring too much of a commonwealth: a
passionate lover of liberty is apt to think that every part of the
government ought to be subordinate to the interests of liberty.

Some, who will not venture to assert that the _real_ difference between
Whig and Tory was lost at the _Revolution_, seem inclined to think, that
the difference is now abolished, and that affairs are so far returned to
their natural state, that there are at present no other parties among us
but _Court_ and _Country_; that is, men who, by interest or principle,
are attached either to monarchy or liberty. The Tories have been so long
obliged to talk in the republican style, that they seem to have made
converts of themselves by their hypocrisy, and to have embraced the
sentiments, as well as language of their adversaries. There are,
however, very considerable remains of that party in England, with all
their old prejudices; and a proof that _Court_ and _Country_ are not our
only parties, is that almost all the dissenters side with the court, and
the lower clergy, at least of the church or England, with the
opposition. This may convince us, that some bias still hangs upon our
constitution, some extrinsic weight, which turns it from its natural
course, and causes a confusion in our parties.[7]

[1] These words have become of general use, and therefore I shall employ
them without intending to express by them an universal blame of the one
party, or approbation of the other. The Court party may no doubt, on
some occasions, consult best the interest of the country, and the
Country party oppose it. In like manner, the _Roman_ parties were
denominated Optimates and Populares; and Cicero, like a true party man,
defines the Optimates to be such as, in all their public conduct,
regulated themselves by the sentiments of the best and worthiest Romans;
_pro Sextio_. The term of Country party may afford a favourable
definition or etymology of the same kind; but it would be folly to draw
any argument from that head, and I have no regard to it in employing
these terms.

[2] I must be understood to mean this of persons who have any motive for
taking party on any side. For, to tell the truth, the greatest part are
commonly men who associate themselves they know not why; from example,
from passion, from idleness. But still it is requisite there be some
source of division, either in principle or interest; otherwise such
persons would not find parties to which they could associate themselves.

[3] This proposition is true, notwithstanding that, in the early times
of the English government, the clergy were the great and principal
opposers of the crown; but at that time their possessions were so
immensely great, that they composed a considerable part of the
proprietors of England, and in many contests were direct rivals of the

[4] The clergy had concurred in a shameless manner with the King's
arbitrary designs, according to their usual maxims in such cases, and,
in return, were allowed to persecute their adversaries, whom they called
heretics and schismatics. The established clergy were Episcopal, the
nonconformists Presbyterians; so that all things concurred to throw the
former, without reserve, into the King's party, and the latter into that
of the Parliament. The _Cavaliers_ being the Court party, and the
_Roundheads_ the Country party, the union was infallible betwixt the
former and the established prelacy, and betwixt the latter and
Presbyterian nonconformists. This union is so natural, according to the
general principles of politics, that it requires some very extraordinary
situation of affairs to break it.

[5] The question is perhaps in itself somewhat difficult, but has been
rendered more so by the prejudices and violence of party.

[6] The celebrated writer above cited has asserted, that the
real distinction betwixt _Whig_ and Tory was lost at the _Revolution_,
and that ever since they have continued to be mere _personal_ parties,
like the _Guelfs_ and Ghibellines, after the Emperors had lost all
authority in Italy. Such an opinion, were it received, would turn our
whole history into an enigma.

I shall first mention, as a proof of a real distinction betwixt these
parties, what every one may have observed or heard concerning the
conduct and conversation of all his friends and acquaintance on both
sides. Have not the _Tories_ always borne an avowed affection to the
family of _Stuart_, and have not their adversaries always opposed with
vigour the succession of that family?

The _Tory_ principles are confessedly the most favourable to monarchy.
Yet the _Tories_ have almost always opposed the court these fifty years;
nor were they cordial friends to King _William_, even when employed by
him. Their quarrel, therefore, cannot be supposed to have lain with the
throne, but with the person who sat on it.

They concurred heartily with the court during the four last years of
Queen _Anne_. But is any one at a loss to find the reason?

The succession of the crown in the British government is a point of too
great consequence to be absolutely indifferent to persons who concern
themselves, in any degree, about the fortune of the public; much less
can it be supposed that the Tory party, who never valued themselves upon
moderation, could maintain a _stoical_ indifference in a point of so
great importance. Were they, therefore, zealous for the house of
_Hanover_? or was there any thing that kept an opposite zeal from openly
appearing, if it did not openly appear, but prudence, and a sense of

It is monstrous to see an established Episcopal clergy in declared
opposition to the court, and a nonconformist Presbyterian clergy in
conjunction with it. What can produce such an unnatural conduct in both?
Nothing, but that the former have espoused monarchical principles too
high for the present settlement, which is founded on the principles of
liberty, and the latter, being afraid of the prevalence of those high
principles, adhere to that party from whom they have reason to expect
liberty and toleration.

The different conduct of the two parties, with regard to foreign
politics, is also a proof to the same purpose. _Holland_ has always been
most favoured by one, and _France_ by the other. In short, the proofs of
this kind seem so palpable and evident, that it is almost needless to
collect them.

It is however remarkable, that though the principles of _Whig_ and
_Tory_ be both of them of a compound nature, yet the ingredients which
predominated in both were not correspondent to each other. A _Tory_
loved monarchy, and bore an affection to the family of _Stuart_; but the
latter affection was the predominant inclination of the party. A _Whig_
loved liberty, and was a friend to the settlement in the Protestant
line; but the love of liberty was professedly his predominant
inclination. The Tories have frequently acted as republicans, where
either policy or revenge has engaged them to that conduct; and there was
none of the party who, upon the supposition that they were to be
disappointed in their views with regard to the succession, would not
have desired to impose the strictest limitations on the crown, and to
bring our form of government as near republican as possible, in order to
depress the family, that, according to their apprehension, succeeded
without any just title. The Whigs, it is true, have also taken steps
dangerous to liberty, under pretext of securing the succession and
settlement of the crown according to their views; but, as the body of
the party had no passion for that succession, otherwise than as the
means of securing liberty, they have been betrayed into these steps by
ignorance or frailty, or the interest of their leaders. The succession
of the crown was, therefore, the chief point with the Tories; the
security of our liberties with the Whigs.

It is difficult to penetrate into the thoughts and sentiments of any
particular man; but it is almost impossible to distinguish those of a
whole party, where it often happens that no two persons agree precisely
in the same way of thinking. Yet I will venture to affirm, that it was
not so much principle, or an opinion of indefeasible right, that
attached the Tories to the ancient family, as affection, or a certain
love and esteem for their persons. The same cause divided England
formerly betwixt the houses of York and Lancaster, and Scotland betwixt
the families of Bruce and Baliol, in an age when political disputes were
but little in fashion, and when political principles must of course have
had but little influence on mankind. The doctrine of passive obedience
is so absurd in itself, and so opposite to our liberties, that it seems
to have been chiefly left to pulpit declaimers, and to their deluded
followers among the _mob_ Men of better sense were guided by
_affection_, and as to the leaders of this party, it is probable that
interest was their sole motive, and that they acted more contrary to
their private sentiments than the leaders of the opposite party.

Some who will not venture to assert, that the _real_ difference between
Whig and Tory, was lost at the _Revolution_, seem inclined to think that
the difference is now abolished, and that affairs are so far returned to
their natural state, that there are at present no other parties amongst
us but _Court_ and _Country_; that is, men who, by interest or principle,
are attached either to Monarchy or to Liberty. It must indeed be
confessed, that the Tory party seem of late to have decayed much in
their numbers, still more in their zeal, and I may venture to say, still
more in their credit and authority. There are few men of knowledge or
learning, at least few philosophers since Mr. Locke has wrote, who would
not be ashamed to be thought of that party; and in almost all companies,
the name of _Old Whig_ is mentioned as an incontestable appellation of
honour and dignity. Accordingly, the enemies of the ministry, as a
reproach, call the courtiers the true _Tories_ and, as an honour,
denominate the gentlemen in the Opposition the true _Whigs_.

I shall conclude this subject with observing, that we never had any
Tories in Scotland, according to the proper signification of the word,
and that the division of parties in this country was really into Whigs
and Jacobites. A Jacobite seems to be a Tory, who has no regard to the
constitution, but is either a zealous partisan of absolute monarchy, or
at least willing to sacrifice our liberties to the obtaining the
succession in that family to which he is attached. The reason of the
difference betwixt England and Scotland I take to be this. Our political
and religious divisions in this country have been, since the Revolution,
regularly correspondent to each other. The Presbyterians were all Whigs,
without exception; the Episcopalians of the opposite party. And as the
clergy of the latter sect were turned out of their churches at the
Revolution, they had no motive to make any compliances with the
government in their oaths or forms of prayer, but openly avowed the
highest principles of their party; which is the cause why their
followers have been more barefaced and violent than their brethren of
the Tory party in England.

[7] Some of the opinions delivered in these Essays, with regard to the
public transactions in the last century, the Author, on a more accurate
examination, found reason to retract in his History of Great Britain.
And as he would not enslave himself to the systems of either party,
neither would he fetter his judgment by his own preconceived opinions
and principles; nor is he ashamed to acknowledge his mistakes. These
mistakes were indeed, at that time almost universal in this kingdom.


That _the corruption of the best of things produces the worst_, is grown
into a maxim, and is commonly proved, among other instances, by the
pernicious effects of _superstition_ and _enthusiasm_, the corruptions
of true religion.

These two species of false religion, though both pernicious, are yet of
a very different, and even of a contrary nature. The mind of man is
subject to certain unaccountable terrors and apprehensions, proceeding
either from the unhappy situation of private or public affairs, from ill
health, from a gloomy and melancholy disposition, or from the
concurrence of all these circumstances. In such a state of mind,
infinite unknown evils are dreaded from unknown agents; and where real
objects of terror are wanting, the soul, active to its own prejudice,
and fostering its predominant inclination, finds imaginary ones, to
whose power and malevolence it sets no limits. As these enemies are
entirely invisible and unknown, the methods taken to appease them are
equally unaccountable, and consist in ceremonies, observances,
mortifications, sacrifices, presents, or in any practice, however absurd
or frivolous, which either folly or knavery recommends to a blind and
terrified credulity. Weakness, fear, melancholy, together with
ignorance, are, therefore, the true sources of Superstition.

But the mind of man is also subject to an unaccountable elevation and
presumption, arising from prosperous success, from luxuriant health,
from strong spirits, or from a bold and confident disposition. In such a
state of mind, the imagination swells with great, but confused
conceptions, to which no sublunary beauties or enjoyments can
correspond. Every thing mortal and perishable vanishes as unworthy of
attention; and a full range is given to the fancy in the invisible
regions, or world of Spirits, where the soul is at liberty to indulge
itself in every imagination, which may best suit its present taste and
disposition. Hence arise raptures, transports, and surprising flights of
fancy; and, confidence and presumption still increasing, these raptures,
being altogether unaccountable, and seeming quite beyond the reach of
our ordinary faculties, are attributed to the immediate inspiration of
that Divine Being who is the object of devotion. In a little time, the
inspired person comes to regard himself as a distinguished favourite of
the Divinity; and when this phrensy once takes place, which is the
summit of enthusiasm, every whimsey is consecrated: human reason, and
even morality, are rejected as fallacious guides, and the fanatic madman
delivers himself over, blindly and without reserve, to the supposed
illapses of the Spirit, and to inspiration from above. Hope, pride,
presumption, a warm imagination, together with ignorance, are therefore
the true sources of Enthusiasm.

These two species of false religion might afford occasion to many
speculations, but I shall confine myself, at present, to a few
reflections concerning their different influence on government and

My _first_ reflection is, _that superstition is favourable to priestly
power, and enthusiasm not less, or rather more contrary to it, than
sound reason and philosophy._ As superstition is founded on fear,
sorrow, and a depression of spirits, it represents the man to himself in
such despicable colours, that he appears unworthy, in his own eyes, of
approaching the Divine presence, and naturally has recourse to any other
person, whose sanctity of life, or perhaps impudence and cunning, have
made him be supposed more favoured by the Divinity. To him the
superstitious intrust their devotions to his care they recommend their
prayers, petitions, and sacrifices: and by his means, they hope to
render their addresses acceptable to their incensed Deity. Hence the
origin of Priests, who may justly be regarded as an invention of a
timorous and abject superstition, which, ever diffident of itself, dares
not offer up its own devotions, but ignorantly thinks to recommend
itself to the Divinity, by the mediation of his supposed friends and
servants. As superstition is a considerable ingredient in almost all
religions, even the most fanatical; there being nothing but philosophy
able entirely to conquer these unaccountable terrors; hence it proceeds,
that in almost every sect of religion there are priests to be found: but
the stronger mixture there is of superstition, the higher is the
authority of the priesthood.

On the other hand, it may be observed, that all enthusiasts have been
free from the yoke of ecclesiastics, and have expressed great
independence in their devotion, with a contempt of forms, ceremonies,
and traditions. The _Quakers_ are the most egregious, though, at the
same time, the most innocent enthusiasts that have yet been known; and
are perhaps the only sect that have never admitted priests among them.
The _Independents_, of all the English sectaries, approach nearest to
the _Quakers_ in fanaticism, and in their freedom from priestly bondage.
The _Presbyterians_ follow after, at an equal distance, in both
particulars. In short, this observation is founded in experience; and
will also appear to be founded in reason, if we consider, that, as
enthusiasm arises from a presumptuous pride and confidence, it thinks
itself sufficiently qualified to _approach_ the Divinity, without any
human mediator. Its rapturous devotions are so fervent, that it even
imagines itself _actually_ to _approach_ him by the way of contemplation
and inward converse; which makes it neglect all those outward ceremonies
and observances, to which the assistance of the priests appears so
requisite in the eyes of their superstitious votaries. The fanatic
consecrates himself, and bestows on his own person a sacred character,
much superior to what forms and ceremonious institutions can confer on
any other.

My _second_ reflection with regard to these species of false religion
is, _that religions which partake of enthusiasm, are, on their first
rise, more furious and violent than those which partake of superstition;
but in a little time become more gentle and moderate._ The violence of
this species of religion, when excited by novelty, and animated by
opposition, appears from numberless instances; of the _Anabaptists_ in
Germany, the _Camisars_ in France, the _Levellers_, and other fanatics
in England, and the _Covenanters_ in Scotland. Enthusiasm being founded
on strong spirits, and a presumptuous boldness of character, it
naturally begets the most extreme resolutions; especially after it rises
to that height as to inspire the deluded fanatic with the opinion of
Divine illuminations, and with a contempt for the common rules of
reason, morality, and prudence.

It is thus enthusiasm produces the most cruel disorders in human
society; but its fury is like that of thunder and tempest, which exhaust
themselves in a little time, and leave the air more calm and serene than
before. When the first fire of enthusiasm is spent, men naturally, in
all fanatical sects, sink into the greatest remissness and coolness in
sacred matters; there being no body of men among them endowed with
sufficient authority, whose interest is concerned to support the
religious spirit; no rites, no ceremonies, no holy observances, which
may enter into the common train of life, and preserve the sacred
principles from oblivion. Superstition, on the contrary, steals in
gradually and insensibly; renders men tame and submissive; is acceptable
to the magistrate, and seems inoffensive to the people: till at last the
priest, having firmly established his authority, becomes the tyrant and
disturber of human society, by his endless contentions, persecutions,
and religious wars. How smoothly did the Romish church advance in her
acquisition of power! But into what dismal convulsions did she throw all
Europe, in order to maintain it! On the other hand, our sectaries, who
were formerly such dangerous bigots, are now become very free reasoners;
and the _Quakers_ seem to approach nearly the only regular body of
_Deists_ in the universe, the _literati_ or the disciples of Confucius
in China.[1]

My _third_ observation on this head is, _that superstition is an enemy
to civil liberty, and enthusiasm a friend to it._ As superstition groans
under the dominion of priests, and enthusiasm is destructive of all
ecclesiastical power, this sufficiently accounts for the present
observation. Not to mention that enthusiasm, being the infirmity of bold
and ambitious tempers, is naturally accompanied with a spirit of
liberty, as superstition, on the contrary, renders men tame and abject,
and fits them for slavery. We learn from English history, that, during
the civil wars, the _Independents_ and _Deists_, though the most
opposite in their religious principles, yet were united in their
political ones, and were alike passionate for a commonwealth. And since
the origin of _Whig_ and _Tory_, the leaders of the _Whigs_ have either
been _Deists_ or professed _Latitudinarian_s in their principles; that
is, friends to toleration, and indifferent to any particular sect of
_Christians_: while the sectaries, who have all a strong tincture of
enthusiasm, have always, without exception, concurred with that party in
defence of civil liberty. The resemblance in their superstitions long
united the High-Church _Tories_ and the _Roman Catholics_, in support of
prerogative and kingly power, though experience of the tolerating spirit
of the _Whigs_ seems of late to have reconciled the _Catholics_ to that

The _Molinists_ and _Jansenists_ in France have a thousand
unintelligible disputes, which are not worthy the reflection of a man of
sense: but what principally distinguishes these two sects, and alone
merits attention, is the different spirit of their religion. The
_Molinists_, conducted by the _Jesuits_, are great friends to
superstition, rigid observers of external forms and ceremonies, and
devoted to the authority of the priests, and to tradition. The
_Jansenists_ are enthusiasts, and zealous promoters of the passionate
devotion, and of the inward life, little influenced by authority, and,
in a word, but half Catholics. The consequences are exactly conformable
to the foregoing reasoning. The _Jesuits_ are the tyrants of the people,
and the slaves of the court; and the _Jansenists_ preserve alive the
small sparks of the love of liberty which are to be found in the French

[1] The Chinese literati have no priests or ecclesiastical


There are certain sects which secretly form themselves in the learned
world, as well as factions in the political; and though sometimes they
come not to an open rupture, they give a different turn to the ways of
thinking of those who have taken part on either side. The most
remarkable of this kind are the sects founded on the different
sentiments with regard to the _dignity of human nature_; which is a
point that seems to have divided philosophers and poets, as well as
divines, from the beginning of the world to this day. Some exalt our
species to the skies, and represent man as a kind of human demigod, who
derives his origin from heaven, and retains evident marks of his lineage
and descent. Others insist upon the blind sides of human nature, and can
discover nothing, except vanity, in which man surpasses the other
animals, whom he affects so much to despise. If an author possess the
talent of rhetoric and declamation, he commonly takes part with the
former: if his turn lie towards irony and ridicule, he naturally throws
himself into the other extreme.

I am far from thinking that all those who have depreciated our species
have been enemies to virtue, and have exposed the frailties of their
fellow-creatures with any bad intention. On the contrary, I am sensible
that a delicate sense of morals, especially when attended with a
splenetic temper, is apt to give a man a disgust of the world, and to
make him consider the common course of human affairs with too much
indignation. I must, however, be of opinion, that the sentiments of
those who are inclined to think favourably of mankind, are more
advantageous to virtue than the contrary principles, which give us a
mean opinion of our nature. When a man is prepossessed with a high
notion of his rank and character in the creation, he will naturally
endeavour to act up to it, and will scorn to do a base or vicious action
which might sink him below that figure which he makes in his own
imagination. Accordingly, we find, that all our polite and fashionable
moralists insist upon this topic, and endeavour to represent vice
unworthy of man, as well as odious in itself.[1]

We find new disputes that are not founded on some ambiguity in the
expression; and I am persuaded that the present dispute, concerning the
dignity or meanness of human nature, is not more exempt from it than any
other. It may therefore be worth while to consider what is real, and
what is only verbal, in this controversy.

That there is a natural difference between merit and demerit, virtue and
vice, wisdom and folly, no reasonable man will deny, yet it is evident
that, in affixing the term, which denotes either our approbation or
blame, we are commonly more influenced by comparison than by any fixed
unalterable standard in the nature of things. In like manner, quantity,
and extension, and bulk, are by every one acknowledged to be real
things: but when we call any animal _great_ or _little_, we always form
a secret comparison between that animal and others of the same species;
and it is that comparison which regulates our judgment concerning its
greatness. A dog and a horse may be of the very same size, while the one
is admired for the greatness of its bulk, and the other for the
smallness. When I am present, therefore, at any dispute, I always
consider with myself whether it be a question of comparison or not that
is the subject of controversy; and if it be, whether the disputants
compare the same objects together, or talk of things that are widely

In forming our notions of human nature, we are apt to make a comparison
between men and animals, the only creatures endowed with thought that
fall under our senses. Certainly this comparison is favourable to
mankind. On the one hand, we see a creature whose thoughts are not
limited by any narrow bounds, either of place or time; who carries his
researches into the most distant regions of this globe, and beyond this
globe, to the planets and heavenly bodies; looks backward to consider
the first origin, at least the history of the human race; casts his eye
forward to see the influence of his actions upon posterity and the
judgments which will be formed of his character a thousand years hence;
a creature, who traces causes and effects to a great length and
intricacy, extracts general principles from particular appearances;
improves upon his discoveries; corrects his mistakes; and makes his very
errors profitable. On the other hand, we are presented with a creature
the very reverse of this; limited in its observations and reasonings to
a few sensible objects which surround it; without curiosity, without
foresight; blindly conducted by instinct, and attaining, in a short
time, its utmost perfection, beyond which it is never able to advance a
single step. What a wide difference is there between these creatures!
And how exalted a notion must we entertain of the former, in comparison
of the latter.

There are two means commonly employed to destroy this conclusion:
_First_, By making an unfair representation of the case, and insisting
only upon the weakness of human nature. And, _secondly_, By forming a
new and secret comparison between man and beings of the most perfect
wisdom. Among the other excellences of man, this is one, that he can
form an idea of perfections much beyond what he has experience of in
himself; and is not limited in his conception of wisdom and virtue. He
can easily exalt his notions, and conceive a degree of knowledge, which,
when compared to his own, will make the latter appear very contemptible,
and will cause the difference between that and the sagacity of animals,
in a manner, to disappear and vanish. Now this being a point in which
all the world is agreed, that human understanding falls infinitely short
of perfect wisdom, it is proper we should know when this comparison
takes place, that we may not dispute where there is no real difference
in our sentiments. Man falls much more short of perfect wisdom, and even
of his own ideas of perfect wisdom, than animals do of man; yet the
latter difference is so considerable, that nothing but a comparison with
the former can make it appear of little moment.

It is also usual to _compare_ one man with another; and finding very few
whom we can call _wise_ or _virtuous_, we are apt to entertain a
contemptible notion of our species in general. That we may be sensible
of the fallacy of this way of reasoning, we may observe, that the
honourable appellations of wise and virtuous are not annexed to any
particular degree of those qualities of _wisdom_ and _virtue_, but arise
altogether from the comparison we make between one man and another. When
we find a man who arrives at such a pitch of wisdom, as is very
uncommon, we pronounce him a wise man: so that to say there are few wise
men in the world, is really to say nothing; since it is only by their
scarcity that they merit that appellation. Were the lowest of our
species as wise as Tully or Lord Bacon, we should still have reason to
say that there are few wise men. For in that case we should exalt our
notions of wisdom, and should not pay a singular homage to any one who
was not singularly distinguished by his talents. In like manner, I have
heard it observed by thoughtless people, that there are few women
possessed of beauty in comparison of those who want it; not considering
that we bestow the epithet of _beautiful_ only on such as possess a
degree of beauty that is common to them with a few. The same degree of
beauty in a woman is called deformity, which is treated as real beauty
in one of our sex.

As it is usual, in forming a notion of our species, to _compare_ it with
the other species above or below it, or to compare the individuals of
the species among themselves; so we often compare together the different
motives or actuating principles of human nature, in order to regulate
our judgment concerning it. And, indeed, this is the only kind of
comparison which is worth our attention, or decides any thing in the
present question. Were our selfish and vicious principles so much
predominant above our social and virtuous, as is asserted by some
philosophers, we ought undoubtedly to entertain a contemptible notion of
human nature.[2]

There is much of a dispute of words in all this controversy. When a man
denies the sincerity of all public spirit or affection to a country and
community, I am at a loss what to think of him. Perhaps he never felt
this passion in so clear and distinct a manner as to remove all his
doubts concerning its force and reality. But when he proceeds afterwards
to reject all private friendship, if no interest or self-love intermix
itself; I am then confident that he abuses terms, and confounds the
ideas of things; since it is impossible for any one to be so selfish, or
rather so stupid, as to make no difference between one man and another,
and give no preference to qualities which engage his approbation and
esteem. Is he also, say I, as insensible to anger as he pretends to be
to friendship? And does injury and wrong no more affect him than
kindness or benefits? Impossible: he does not know himself: he has
forgotten the movements of his heart; or rather, he makes use of a
different language from the rest of his countrymen and calls not things
by their proper names. What say you of natural affection? (I subjoin),
Is that also a species of self-love? Yes; all is self-love. _Your_
children are loved only because they are yours: _your_ friend for a like
reason; and _your_ country engages you only so far as it has a
connection with _yourself_. Were the idea of self removed, nothing
would affect you: you would be altogether unactive and insensible: or,
if you ever give yourself any movement, it would only be from vanity,
and a desire of fame and reputation to this same self. I am willing,
reply I, to receive your interpretation of human actions, provided you
admit the facts. That species of self-love which displays itself in
kindness to others, you must allow to have great influence over human
actions, and even greater, on many occasions, than that which remains in
its original shape and form. For how few are there, having a family,
children, and relations, who do not spend more on the maintenance and
education of these than on their own pleasures? This, indeed, you justly
observe, may proceed from their self-love, since the prosperity of their
family and friends is one, or the chief of their pleasures, as well as
their chief honour. Be you also one of these selfish men, and you are
sure of every one's good opinion and good-will; or, not to shock your
ears with their expressions, the self-love of every one, and mine among
the rest, will then incline us to serve you, and speak well of you.

In my opinion, there are two things which have led astray those
philosophers that have insisted so much on the selfishness of man. In
the _first_ place, they found that every act of virtue or friendship was
attended with a secret pleasure; whence they concluded, that friendship
and virtue could not be disinterested. But the fallacy of this is
obvious. The virtuous sentiment or passion produces the pleasure, and
does not arise from it. I feel a pleasure in doing good to my friend,
because I love him; but do not love him for the sake of that pleasure.

In the _second_ place, it has always been found, that the virtuous are
far from being indifferent to praise; and therefore they have been
represented as a set of vainglorious men, who had nothing in view but
the applauses of others. But this also is a fallacy. It is very unjust
in the world, when they find any tincture of vanity in a laudable
action, to depreciate it upon that account, or ascribe it entirely to
that motive. The case is not the same with vanity, as with other
passions. Where avarice or revenge enters into any seemingly virtuous
action, it is difficult for us to determine how far it enters, and it is
natural to suppose it the sole actuating principle. But vanity is so
closely allied to virtue, and to love the fame of laudable actions
approaches so near the love of laudable actions for their own sake, that
these passions are more capable of mixture, than any other kinds of
affection; and it is almost impossible to have the latter without some
degree of the former. Accordingly we find, that this passion for glory
is always warped and varied according to the particular taste or
disposition of the mind on which it falls. Nero had the same vanity in
driving a chariot, that Trajan had in governing the empire with justice
and ability. To love the glory of virtuous deeds is a sure proof of the
love of virtue.

[1] Women are generally much more flattered in their youth than men,
which may proceed from this reason among others, that their chief point
of honour is considered as much more difficult than ours, and requires
to be supported by all that decent pride which can be instilled into

[2] I may perhaps treat more fully of this subject in some future Essay.
In the meantime I shall observe, what has been proved beyond question by
several great moralists of the present age, that the social passions are
by far the most powerful of any, and that even all the other passions,
receive from them their chief force and influence. Whoever desires to
see this question treated at large, with the greatest force of argument
and eloquence, may consult my Lord Shaftesbury's Enquiry concerning


Those who employ their pens on political subjects, free from party rage,
and party prejudices, cultivate a science, which, of all others,
contributes most to public utility, and even to the private satisfaction
of those who addict themselves to the study of it. I am apt, however, to
entertain a suspicion, that the world is still too young to fix many
general truths in politics, which will remain true to the latest
posterity. We have not as yet had experience of three thousand years; so
that not only the art of reasoning is still imperfect in this science,
as in all others, but we even want sufficient materials upon which we
can reason. It is not fully known what degree of refinement, either in
virtue or vice, human nature is susceptible of, nor what may be expected
of mankind from any great revolution in their education, customs, or
principles. Machiavel was certainly a great genius; but, having confined
his study to the furious and tyrannical governments of ancient times, or
to the little disorderly principalities of Italy, his reasonings,
especially upon monarchical government, have been found extremely
defective; and there scarcely is any maxim in his _Prince_ which
subsequent experience has not entirely refuted. 'A weak prince,' says
he, 'is incapable of receiving good counsel; for, if he consult with
several, he will not be able to choose among their different counsels.
If he abandon himself to one, that minister may perhaps have capacity,
but he will not long be a minister. He will be sure to dispossess his
master, and place himself and his family upon the throne.' I mention
this, among many instances of the errors of that politician, proceeding,
in a great measure, from his having lived in too early an age of the
world, to be a good judge of political truth. Almost all the princes of
Europe are at present governed by their ministers, and have been so for
near two centuries, and yet no such event has ever happened, or can
possibly happen. Sejanus might project dethroning the Cæsars, but
Fleury, though ever so vicious, could not, while in his senses,
entertain the least hopes of dispossessing the Bourbons.

Trade was never esteemed an affair of state till the last century; and
there scarcely is any ancient writer on politics who has made mention of
it. Even the Italians have kept a profound silence with regard to it,
though it has now engaged the chief attention, as well of ministers of
state, as of speculative reasoners. The great opulence, grandeur, and
military achievements of the two maritime powers, seem first to have
instructed mankind in the importance of an extensive commerce.

Having therefore intended, in this Essay, to make a full comparison of
civil liberty and absolute government, and to show the great advantages
of the former above the latter; I began to entertain a suspicion that no
man in this age was sufficiently qualified for such an undertaking, and
that, whatever any one should advance on that head, would in all
probability be refuted by further experience, and be rejected by
posterity. Such mighty revolutions have happened in human affairs, and
so many events have arisen contrary to the expectation of the ancients,
that they are sufficient to beget the suspicion of still further

It had been observed by the ancients, that all the arts and sciences
arose among free nations; and that the Persians and Egyptians,
notwithstanding their ease, opulence, and luxury, made but faint efforts
towards a relish in those finer pleasures, which were carried to such
perfection by the Greeks, amidst continual wars, attended with poverty,
and the greatest simplicity of life and manners. It had also been
observed, that, when the Greeks lost their liberty, though they
increased mightily in riches by means of the conquests of Alexander, yet
the arts, from that moment, declined among them, and have never since
been able to raise their head in that climate. Learning was transplanted
to Rome, the only free nation at that time in the universe; and having
met with so favourable a soil, it made prodigious shoots for above a
century; till the decay of liberty produced also the decay of letters,
and spread a total barbarism over the world. From these two
experiments, of which, each was double in its kind, and showed the fall
of learning in absolute governments, as well as its rise in popular
ones, Longinus thought himself sufficiently justified in asserting that
the arts and sciences could never flourish but in a free government. And
in this opinion he has been followed by several eminent writers[1] in
our own country, who either confined their view merely to ancient facts,
or entertained too great a partiality in favour of that form of
government established among us.

But what would these writers have said to the instances of modern Rome
and Florence? Of which the former carried to perfection all the finer
arts of sculpture, painting, and music, as well as poetry, though it
groaned under tyranny, and under the tyranny of priests, while the
latter made its chief progress in the arts and sciences after it began
to lose its liberty by the usurpation of the family of Medici. Ariosto,
Tasso, Galileo, no more than Raphael or Michael Angelo, were born in
republics. And though the Lombard school was famous as well as the
Roman, yet the Venetians have had the smallest share in its honours, and
seem rather inferior to the other Italians in their genius for the arts
and sciences. Rubens established his school at Antwerp, not at
Amsterdam. Dresden, not Hamburg, is the centre of politeness in Germany.

But the most eminent instance of the flourishing of learning in absolute
governments is that of France, which scarcely ever enjoyed any
established liberty, and yet has carried the arts and sciences as near
perfection as any other nation. The English are, perhaps, greater
philosophers; the Italians better painters and musicians; the Romans
were greater orators; but the French are the only people, except the
Greeks, who have been at once philosophers, poets, orators, historians,
painters, architects, sculptors, and musicians. With regard to the
stage, they have excelled even the Greeks, who far excelled the English.
And, in common life, they have, in a great measure, perfected that art,
the most useful and agreeable of any, _l'Art de Vivre_, the art of
society and conversation.

If we consider the state of the sciences and polite arts in our own
country, Horace's observation, with regard to the Romans, may in a great
measure be applied to the British.

          Sed in longum tamen ævum
     Manserunt, hodieque manent _vestigia ruris_.

The elegance and propriety of style have been very much neglected among
us. We have no dictionary of our language, and scarcely a tolerable
grammar. The first polite prose we have was writ by a man who is still
alive.[2] As to Sprat, Locke, and even Temple, they knew too little of
the rules of art to be esteemed elegant writers. The prose of Bacon,
Harrington, and Milton, is altogether stiff and pedantic, though their
sense be excellent. Men, in this country, have been so much occupied in
the great disputes of _Religion_, _Politics_, and _Philosophy_, that
they had no relish for the seemingly minute observations of grammar and
criticism. And, though this turn of thinking must have considerably
improved our sense and our talent of reasoning, it must be confessed,
that even in those sciences above mentioned, we have not any standard
book which we can transmit to posterity: and the utmost we have to boast
of, are a few essays towards a more just philosophy, which indeed
promise well, but have not as yet reached any degree of perfection.

It has become an established opinion, that commerce can never flourish
but in a free government; and this opinion seems to be founded on a
longer and larger experience than the foregoing, with regard to the arts
and sciences. If we trace commerce in its progress through Tyre, Athens,
Syracuse, Carthage, Venice, Florence, Genoa, Antwerp, Holland, England,
&c, we shall always find it to have fixed its seat in free governments.
The three greatest trading towns now in Europe, are London, Amsterdam,
and Hamburg; all free cities, and Protestant cities; that is, enjoying a
double liberty. It must, however, be observed, that the great jealousy
entertained of late with regard to the commerce of France, seems to
prove that this maxim is no more certain and infallible than the
foregoing, and that the subjects of an absolute prince may become our
rivals in commerce as well as in learning.

Durst I deliver my opinion in an affair of so much uncertainty, I would
assert, that notwithstanding the efforts of the French, there is
something hurtful to commerce inherent in the very nature of absolute
government, and inseparable from it; though the reason I should assign
for this opinion is somewhat different from that which is commonly
insisted on. Private property seems to me almost as secure in a
civilized European monarchy as in a republic, nor is danger much
apprehended, in such a government, from the violence of the sovereign,
more than we commonly dread harm from thunder, or earthquakes, or any
accident the most unusual and extraordinary. Avarice, the spur of
industry, is so obstinate a passion, and works its way through so many
real dangers and difficulties, that it is not likely to be scared by an
imaginary danger, which is so small, that it scarcely admits of
calculation. Commerce, therefore, in my opinion, is apt to decay in
absolute governments, not because it is there less secure, but because
it is less _honourable_. A subordination of rank is absolutely necessary
to the support of monarchy. Birth, titles, and place, must be honoured
above industry and riches; and while these notions prevail, all the
considerable traders will be tempted to throw up their commerce, in
order to purchase some of those employments, to which privileges and
honours are annexed.

Since I am upon this head, of the alterations which time has produced,
or may produce in politics, I must observe, that all kinds of
government, free and absolute, seem to have undergone in modern times, a
great change for the better, with regard both to foreign and domestic
management. The _balance_ of power is a secret in politics, fully known
only to the present age; and I must add, that the internal police of
states has also received great improvements within the last century. We
are informed by Sallust, that Catiline's army was much augmented by the
accession of the highwaymen about Rome; though I believe, that all of
that profession who are at present dispersed over Europe would not
amount to a regiment. In Cicero's pleadings for Milo, I find this
argument, among others, made use of to prove that his client had not
assassinated Clodius. Had Milo, said he, intended to have killed
Clodius, he had not attacked him in the daytime, and at such a distance
from the city; he had waylaid him at night, near the suburbs, where it
might have been pretended that he was killed by robbers; and the
frequency of the accident would have favoured the deceit. This is a
surprising proof of the loose policy of Rome, and of the number and
force of these robbers, since Clodius was at that time attended by
thirty slaves, who were completely armed, and sufficiently accustomed to
blood and danger in the frequent tumults excited by that seditious

But though all kinds of government be improved in modern times, yet
monarchical government seems to have made the greatest advances towards
perfection. It may now be affirmed of civilized monarchies, what was
formerly said in praise of republics alone, _that they are a government
of Laws, not of Men._ They are found susceptible of order, method, and
constancy, to a surprising degree. Property is there secure, industry
encouraged, the arts flourish, and the prince lives secure among his
subjects, like a father among his children. There are, perhaps, and have
been for two centuries, near two hundred absolute princes, great and
small, in Europe; and allowing twenty years to each reign, we may
suppose, that there have been in the whole two thousand monarchs, or
tyrants, as the Greeks would have called them; yet of these there has
not been one, not even Philip II of Spain, so bad as Tiberius, Caligula,
Nero, or Domitian, who were four in twelve among the Roman emperors. It
must, however, be confessed, that though monarchical governments have
approached nearer to popular ones in gentleness and stability, they are
still inferior. Our modern education and customs instil more humanity
and moderation than the ancient; but have not as yet been able to
overcome entirely the disadvantages of that form of government.

But here I must beg leave to advance a conjecture, which seems probable,
but which posterity alone can fully judge of. I am apt to think, that in
monarchical governments there is a source of improvement, and in popular
governments a source of degeneracy, which in time will bring these
species of civil polity still nearer an equality. The greatest abuses
which arise in France, the most perfect model of pure monarchy, proceed
not from the number or weight of the taxes, beyond what are to be met
with in free countries; but from the expensive, unequal, arbitrary, and
intricate method of levying them, by which the industry of the poor,
especially of the peasants and farmers, is in a great measure
discouraged, and agriculture rendered a beggarly and slavish employment.
But to whose advantage do these abuses tend? If to that of the nobility,
they might be esteemed inherent in that form of government, since the
nobility are the true supports of monarchy; and it is natural their
interest should be more consulted in such a constitution, than that of
the people. But the nobility are, in reality, the chief losers by this
oppression, since it ruins their estates, and beggars their tenants. The
only gainers by it are the _Financiers_, a race of men rather odious to
the nobility and the whole kingdom. If a prince or minister, therefore,
should arise, endowed with sufficient discernment to know his own and
the public interest, and with sufficient force of mind to break through
ancient customs, we might expect to see these abuses remedied; in which
case, the difference between that absolute government and our free one
would not appear so considerable as at present.

The source of degeneracy which may be remarked in free governments,
consists in the practice of contracting debt, and mortgaging the public
revenues, by which taxes may, in time, become altogether intolerable,
and all the property of the state be brought into the hands of the
public The practice is of modern date. The Athenians, though governed by
a republic, paid near two hundred per cent. for those sums of money
which any emergence made it necessary for them to borrow; as we learn
from Xenophon. Among the moderns, the Dutch first introduced the
practice of borrowing great sums at low interest, and have wellnigh
ruined themselves by it. Absolute princes have also contracted debt; but
as an absolute prince may make a bankruptcy when he pleases, his people
can never be oppressed by his debts. In popular governments, the people,
and chiefly those who have the highest offices, being commonly the
public creditors, it is difficult for the state to make use of tills
remedy, which, however it may sometimes be necessary, is always cruel
and barbarous. This, therefore, seems to be an inconvenience which
nearly threatens all free governments, especially our own, at the
present juncture of affairs. And what a strong motive is this to
increase our frugality of public money, lest, for want of it, we be
reduced, by the multiplicity of taxes, or, what is worse, by our public
impotence and inability for defence, to curse our very liberty, and wish
ourselves in the same state of servitude with all the nations who
surround us?

[1] Mr. Addison and Lord Shaftesbury.

[2] Dr. Swift.


Those who consider the periods and revolutions of human kind, as
represented in history, are entertained with a spectacle full of
pleasure and variety, and see with surprise the manners, customs, and
opinions of the same species susceptible of such prodigious changes in
different periods of time. It may, however, be observed, that, in
_civil_ history, there is found a much greater uniformity than in the
history of learning and science, and that the wars, negotiations, and
politics of one age, resemble more those of another than the taste, wit,
and speculative principles. Interest and ambition, honour and shame,
friendship and enmity, gratitude and revenge, are the prime movers in
all public transactions; and these passions are of a very stubborn and
untractable nature, in comparison of the sentiments and understanding,
which are easily varied by education and example. The Goths were much
more inferior to the Romans in taste and science than in courage and

But not to compare together nations so widely different, it may be
observed, that even this latter period of human learning is, in many
respects, of an opposite character to the ancient; and that, if we be
superior in philosophy, we are still, notwithstanding all our
refinements, much inferior in eloquence.

In ancient times, no work of genius was thought to require so great
parts and capacity as the speaking in public; and some eminent writers
have pronounced the talents even of a great poet or philosopher to be of
an inferior nature to those which are requisite for such an undertaking.
Greece and Rome produced, each of them, but one accomplished orator;
and, whatever praises the other celebrated speakers might merit, they
were still esteemed much inferior to those great models of eloquence. It
is observable, that the ancient critics could scarcely find two orators
in any age who deserved to be placed precisely in the same rank, and
possessed the same degree of merit. Calvus, Cælius, Curio, Hortensius,
Cæsar, rose one above another: but the greatest of that age was inferior
to Cicero, the most eloquent speaker that had ever appeared in Rome.
Those of fine taste, however, pronounced this judgment of the Roman
orator, as well as of the Grecian, that both of them surpassed in
eloquence all that had ever appeared, but that they were far from
reaching the perfection of their art, which was infinite, and not only
exceeded human force to attain, but human imagination to conceive.
Cicero declares himself dissatisfied with his own performances, nay,
even with those of Demosthenes. _Ita sunt avidæ et capaces meæ aures,_
says he, _et semper aliquid immensum infinitumque desiderant._

Of all the polite and learned nations, England alone possesses a popular
government, or admits into the legislature such numerous assemblies as
can be supposed to lie under the dominion of eloquence. But what has
England to boast of in this particular? In enumerating the great men who
have done honour to our country, we exult in our poets and philosophers;
but what orators are ever mentioned? or where are the monuments of their
genius to be met with? There are found, indeed, in our histories, the
names of several, who directed the resolutions of our parliament: but
neither themselves nor others have taken the pains to preserve their
speeches, and the authority, which they possessed, seems to have been
owing to their experience, wisdom, or power, more than to their talents
for oratory. At present there are above half a dozen speakers in the two
Houses, who, in the judgment of the public, have reached very near the
same pitch of eloquence; and no man pretends to give any one the
preference above the rest. This seems to me a certain proof, that none
of them have attained much beyond a mediocrity in their art, and that
the species of eloquence, which they aspire to, gives no exercise to the
sublimer faculties of the mind, but may be reached by ordinary talents
and a slight application. A hundred cabinet-makers in London can work a
table or a chair equally well; but no one poet can write verses with
such spirit and elegance as Mr. Pope.

We are told, that, when Demosthenes was to plead, all ingenious men
flocked to Athens from the most remote parts of Greece, as to the most
celebrated spectacle of the world. At London, you may see men sauntering
in the court of requests, while the most important debate is carrying on
in the two Houses; and many do not think themselves sufficiently
compensated for the losing of their dinners, by all the eloquence of our
most celebrated speakers. When old Cibber is to act, the curiosity of
several is more excited, than when our prime minister is to defend
himself from a motion for his removal or impeachment.

Even a person, unacquainted with the noble remains of ancient orators,
may judge, from a few strokes, that the style or species of their
eloquence was infinitely more sublime than that which modern orators
aspire to. How absurd would it appear, in our temperate and calm
speakers, to make use of an _Apostrophe_, like that noble one of
Demosthenes, so much celebrated by Quintilian and Longinus, when,
justifying the unsuccessful battle of Chæronea, he breaks out, 'No, my
fellow-citizens. No: you have not erred. I swear by the _manes_ of those
heroes, who fought for the same cause in the plains of Marathon and
Platæa.' Who could now endure such a bold and poetical figure as that
which Cicero employs, after describing, in the most tragical terms, the
crucifixion of a Roman citizen? 'Should I paint the horrors of this
scene, not to Roman citizens, not to the allies of our state, not to
those who have ever heard of the Roman name, not even to men, but to
brute creatures; or, to go further, should I lift up my voice in the
most desolate solitude, to the rocks and mountains, yet should I surely
see those rude and inanimate parts of nature moved with horror and
indignation at the recital of so enormous an action.' With what a blaze
of eloquence must such a sentence be surrounded to give it grace, or
cause it to make any impression on the hearers! And what noble art and
sublime talents are requisite to arrive, by just degrees, at a sentiment
so bold and excessive! To inflame the audience, so as to make them
accompany the speaker in such violent passions, and such elevated
conceptions; and to conceal, under a torrent of eloquence, the artifice
by which all this is effectuated! Should this sentiment even appear to
us excessive, as perhaps justly it may, it will at least serve to give
an idea of the style of ancient eloquence, where such swelling
expressions were not rejected as wholly monstrous and gigantic.

Suitable to this vehemence of thought and expression, was the vehemence
of action, observed in the ancient orators. The _supplosio pedis_, or
stamping with the foot, was one of the most usual and moderate gestures
which they made use of; though that is now esteemed too violent, either
for the senate, bar, or pulpit, and is only admitted into the theatre
to accompany the most violent passions which are there represented.

One is somewhat at a loss to what cause we may ascribe so sensible a
decline of eloquence in latter ages. The genius of mankind, at all
times, is perhaps equal: the moderns have applied themselves, with great
industry and success, to all the other arts and sciences: and a learned
nation possesses a popular government; a circumstance which seems
requisite for the full display of these noble talents: but
notwithstanding all these advantages, our progress in eloquence is very
inconsiderable, in comparison of the advances which we have made in all
other parts of learning.

Shall we assert, that the strains of ancient eloquence are unsuitable to
our age, and ought not to be imitated by modern orators? Whatever
reasons may be made use of to prove this, I am persuaded they will be
found, upon examination, to be unsound and unsatisfactory.

_First_, It may be said, that, in ancient times, during the flourishing
period of Greek and Roman learning, the municipal laws, in every state,
were but few and simple, and the decision of causes was, in a great
measure, left to the equity and common sense of the judges. The study of
the laws was not then a laborious occupation, requiring the drudgery of
a whole life to finish it, and incompatible with every other study or
profession. The great statesmen and generals among the Romans were all
lawyers; and Cicero, to show the facility of acquiring this science,
declares, that in the midst of all his occupations, he would undertake,
in a few days, to make himself a complete civilian. Now, where a pleader
addresses himself to the equity of his judges, he has much more room to
display his eloquence, than where he must draw his arguments from strict
laws, statutes, and precedents. In the former case many circumstances
must be taken in, many personal considerations regarded, and even favour
and inclination, which it belongs to the orator, by his art and
eloquence, to conciliate, may be disguised under the appearance of
equity. But how shall a modern lawyer have leisure to quit his toilsome
occupations, in order to gather the flowers of Parnassus? Or what
opportunity shall we have of displaying them, amidst the rigid and
subtile arguments, objections, and replies, which he is obliged to make
use of? The greatest genius, and greatest orator, who should pretend to
plead before the _Chancellor_, after a month's study of the laws, would
only labour to make himself ridiculous.

I am ready to own, that this circumstance, of the multiplicity and
intricacy of laws, is a discouragement to eloquence in modern times; but
I assert, that it will not entirely account for the decline of that
noble art. It may banish oratory from Westminster Hall, but not from
either house of Parliament. Among the Athenians, the Areopagites
expressly forbade all allurements of eloquence; and some have
pretended, that in the Greek orations, written in the _judiciary_ form,
there is not so bold and rhetorical a style as appears in the Roman. But
to what a pitch did the Athenians carry their eloquence in the
_deliberative_ kind, when affairs of state were canvassed, and the
liberty, happiness, and honour of the republic, were the subject of
debate! Disputes of this nature elevate the genius above all others, and
give the fullest scope to eloquence; and such disputes are very frequent
in this nation.

_Secondly_, It may be pretended, that the decline of eloquence is owing
to the superior good sense of the moderns, who reject with disdain all
those rhetorical tricks employed to seduce the judges, and will admit of
nothing but solid argument in any debate or deliberation. If a man be
accused of murder, the fact must be proved by witnesses and evidence,
and the laws will afterwards determine the punishment of the criminal.
It would be ridiculous to describe, in strong colours, the horror and
cruelty of the action; to introduce the relations of the dead, and, at a
signal, make them throw themselves at the feet of the judges, imploring
justice, with tears and lamentations: and still more ridiculous would it
be, to employ a picture representing the bloody deed, in order to move
the judges by the display of so tragical a spectacle, though we know
that this artifice was sometimes practised by the pleaders of old. Now,
banish the pathetic from public discourses, and you reduce the speakers
merely to modern eloquence; that is, to good sense, delivered in proper

Perhaps it may be acknowledged, that our modern customs, or our superior
good sense, if you will, should make our orators more cautious and
reserved than the ancient, in attempting to inflame the passions, or
elevate the imagination of their audience; but I see no reason why it
should make them despair absolutely of succeeding in that attempt. It
should make them redouble their art, not abandon it entirely. The
ancient orators seem also to have been on their guard against this
jealousy of their audience; but they took a different way of eluding it.
They hurried away with such a torrent of sublime and pathetic, that they
left their hearers no leisure to perceive the artifice by which they
were deceived. Nay, to consider the matter aright, they were not
deceived by any artifice. The orator, by the force of his own genius and
eloquence, first inflamed himself with anger, indignation, pity, sorrow;
and then communicated those impetuous movements to his audience.

Does any man pretend to have more good sense than Julius Cæsar?; yet
that haughty conqueror, we know, was so subdued by the charms of
Cicero's eloquence, that he was, in a manner, constrained to change his
settled purpose and resolution, and to absolve a criminal, whom, before
that orator pleaded, he was determined to condemn.

Some objections, I own, notwithstanding his vast success, may lie
against some passages of the Roman orator. He is too florid and
rhetorical: his figures are too striking and palpable: the divisions of
his discourse are drawn chiefly from the rules of the schools: and his
wit disdains not always the artifice even of a pun, rhyme, or jingle of
words. The Grecian addressed himself to an audience much less refined
than the Roman senate or judges. The lowest vulgar of Athens were his
sovereigns, and the arbiters of his eloquence. Yet is his manner more
chaste and austere than that of the other. Could it be copied, its
success would be infallible over a modern assembly. It is rapid harmony,
exactly adjusted to the sense; it is vehement reasoning, without any
appearance of art: it is disdain, anger, boldness, freedom, involved in
a continued stream of argument: and, of all human productions, the
orations of Demosthenes present to us the models which approach the
nearest to perfection.

_Thirdly_, It may be pretended, that the disorders of the ancient
governments, and the enormous crimes of which the citizens were often
guilty, afforded much ampler matter for eloquence than can be met with
among the moderns. Were there no Verres or Catiline, there would be no
Cicero. But that this reason can have no great influence, is evident. It
would be easy to find a Philip in modern times, but where shall we find
a Demosthenes?

What remains, then, but that we lay the blame on the want of genius, or
of judgment, in our speakers, who either found themselves incapable of
reaching the heights of ancient eloquence, or rejected all such
endeavours, as unsuitable to the spirit of modern assemblies? A few
successful attempts of this nature might rouse the genius of the nation,
excite the emulation of the youth, and accustom our ears to a more
sublime and more pathetic elocution, than what we have been hitherto
entertained with. There is certainly something accidental in the first
rise and progress of the arts in any nation. I doubt whether a very
satisfactory reason can be given why ancient Rome, though it received
all its refinements from Greece, could attain only to a relish for
statuary, painting, and architecture, without reaching the practice of
these arts. While modern Rome has been excited by a few remains found
among the ruins of antiquity, and has produced artists of the greatest
eminence and distinction. Had such a cultivated genius for oratory, as
Waller's for poetry, arisen during the civil wars, when liberty began to
be fully established, and popular assemblies to enter into all the most
material points of government, I am persuaded so illustrious an example
would have given a quite different turn to British eloquence, and made
us reach the perfection of the ancient model. Our orators would then
have done honour to their country, as well as our poets, geometers, and
philosophers; and British Ciceros have appeared, as well as British
Archimedeses and Virgils.[1]

It is seldom or never found, when a false taste in poetry or eloquence
prevails among any people, that it has been preferred to a true, upon
comparison and reflection. It commonly prevails merely from ignorance of
the true, and from the want of perfect models to lead men into a juster
apprehension, and more refined relish of those productions of genius.
When _these_ appear, they soon unite all suffrages in their favour, and,
by their natural and powerful charms, gain over even the most
prejudiced to the love and admiration of them. The principles of every
passion, and of every sentiment, is in every man; and, when touched
properly, they rise to life, and warm the heart, and convey that
satisfaction, by which a work of genius is distinguished from the
adulterate beauties of a capricious wit and fancy. And, if this
observation be true, with regard to all the liberal arts, it must be
peculiarly so with regard to eloquence; which, being merely calculated
for the public, and for men of the world, cannot, without any pretence
of reason, appeal from the people to more refined judges, but must
submit to the public verdict without reserve or limitation. Whoever,
upon comparison, is deemed by a common audience the greatest orator,
ought most certainly to be pronounced such by men of science and
erudition. And though an indifferent speaker may triumph for a long
time, and be esteemed altogether perfect by the vulgar, who are
satisfied with his accomplishments, and know not in what he is
defective; yet, whenever the true genius arises, he draws to him the
attention of every one, and immediately appears superior to his rival.

Now, to judge by this rule, ancient eloquence, that is, the sublime and
passionate, is of a much juster taste than the modern, or the
argumentative and rational, and, if properly executed, will always have
more command and authority over mankind. We are satisfied with our
mediocrity, because we have had no experience of any thing better: but
the ancients had experience of both; and upon comparison, gave the
preference to that kind of which they have left us such applauded
models. For, if I mistake not, our modern eloquence is of the same style
or species with that which ancient critics denominated Attic eloquence,
that is, calm, elegant, and subtile, which instructed the reason more
than affected the passions, and never raised its tone above argument or
common discourse. Such was the eloquence of Lysias among the Athenians,
and of Calvus among the Romans. These were esteemed in their time; but,
when compared with Demosthenes and Cicero, were eclipsed like a taper
when set in the rays of a meridian sun. Those latter orators possessed
the same elegance, and subtilty, and force of argument with the former;
but, what rendered them chiefly admirable, was that pathetic and
sublime, which, on proper occasions, they threw into their discourse,
and by which they commanded the resolution of their audience.

Of this species of eloquence we have scarcely had any instance in
England, at least in our public speakers. In our writers, we have had
some instances which have met with great applause, and might assure our
ambitious youth of equal or superior glory in attempts for the revival
of ancient eloquence. Lord Bolingbroke's productions, with all their
defects in argument, method, and precision, contain a force and energy
which our orators scarcely ever aim at; though it is evident that such
an elevated style has much better grace in a speaker than in a writer,
and is assured of more prompt and more astonishing success. It is there
seconded by the graces of voice and action: the movements are mutually
communicated between the orator and the audience: and the very aspect of
a large assembly, attentive to the discourse of one man, must inspire
him with a peculiar elevation, sufficient to give a propriety to the
strongest figures and expressions. It is true, there is a great
prejudice against _set speeches_; and a man cannot escape ridicule, who
repeats a discourse as a schoolboy does his lesson, and takes no notice
of any thing that has been advanced in the course of the debate. But
where is the necessity of falling into this absurdity? A public speaker
must know beforehand the question under debate. He may compose all the
arguments, objections, and answers, such as he thinks will be most
proper for his discourse. If any thing new occur, he may supply it from
his own invention; nor will the difference be very apparent between his
elaborate and his extemporary compositions. The mind naturally continues
with the same _impetus_ or _force_, which it has acquired by its motion
as a vessel, once impelled by the oars, carries on its course for some
time when the original impulse is suspended.

I shall conclude this subject with observing, that, even though our
modern orators should not elevate their style, or aspire to a rivalship
with the ancient; yet there is, in most of their speeches, a material
defect which they might correct, without departing from that composed
air of argument and reasoning to which they limit their ambition. Their
great affectation of extemporary discourses has made them reject all
order and method, which seems so requisite to argument, and without
which it is scarcely possible to produce an entire conviction on the
mind. It is not that one would recommend many divisions in a public
discourse, unless the subject very evidently offer them: but it is easy,
without this formality, to observe a method, and make that method
conspicuous to the hearers, who will be infinitely pleased to see the
arguments rise naturally from one another, and will retain a more
thorough persuasion than can arise from the strongest reasons which are
thrown together in confusion.

[1] I have confessed that there is something accidental in the origin
and progress of the arts in any nation; and yet I cannot forbear
thinking, that if the other learned and polite nations of Europe had
possessed the same advantages of a popular government, they would
probably have carried eloquence to a greater height than it has yet
reached in Britain. The French sermons, especially those of Flechier and
Bourdaloue, are much superior to the English in this particular; and in
Flechier there are many strokes of the most sublime poetry. His funeral
sermon on the Marechal de Turenne, is a good instance. None but private
causes in that country, are ever debated before their Parliament or
Courts of Judicature; but, notwithstanding this disadvantage, there
appears a spirit of eloquence in many of their lawyers, which, with
proper cultivation and encouragement, might rise to the greatest
heights. The pleadings of Patru are very elegant, and give us room to
imagine what so fine a genius could have performed in questions
concerning public liberty or slavery, peace or war, who exerts himself
with such success in debates concerning the price of an old horse, or
the gossiping story of a quarrel betwixt an abbess and her nuns. For it
is remarkable, that this polite writer, though esteemed by all the men
of wit in his time, was never employed in the most considerable causes
of their courts of judicature, but lived and died in poverty; from an
ancient prejudice industriously propagated by the Dunces in all
countries, _That a man of genius is unfit for business._ The disorders
produced by the ministry of Cardinal Mazarine, made the Parliament of
Paris enter into the discussion of public affairs; and during that short
interval, there appeared many symptoms of the revival of ancient
eloquence. The Avocat-General, Talon, in an oration, invoked on his
knees the spirit of St Louis to look down with compassion on his divided
and unhappy people, and to inspire them, from above, with the love of
concord and unanimity. The members of the French Academy have attempted
to give us models of eloquence in their harangues at their admittance;
but having no subject to discourse upon, they have run altogether into a
fulsome strain of panegyric and flattery, the most barren of all
subjects. Their style, however, is commonly, on these occasions, very
elevated and sublime, and might reach the greatest heights, were it
employed on a subject more favourable and engaging.

There are some circumstances in the English temper and genius, which are
disadvantageous to the progress of eloquence, and render all attempts of
that kind more dangerous and difficult among them, than among any other
nation in the universe. The English are conspicuous for good sense,
which makes them very jealous of any attempts to deceive them, by the
flowers of rhetoric and elocution. They are also peculiarly _modest_;
which makes them consider it as a piece of arrogance to offer any thing
but reason to public assemblies, or attempt to guide them by passion or
fancy. I may, perhaps, be allowed to add that the people in general are
not remarkable for delicacy of taste, or for sensibility to the charms
of the Muses. Their musical parts, to use the expression of a noble
author, are but indifferent. Hence their comic poets, to move them, must
have recourse to obscenity; their tragic poets to blood and slaughter.
And hence, their orators, being deprived of any such resource, have
abandoned altogether the hopes of moving them, and have confined
themselves to plain argument and reasoning.

These circumstances, joined to particular accidents, may, perhaps, have
retarded the growth of eloquence in this kingdom; but will not be able
to prevent its success, if ever it appear amongst us. And one may safely
pronounce, that this is a field in which the most flourishing laurels
may yet be gathered, if any youth of accomplished genius, thoroughly
acquainted with all the polite arts, and not ignorant of public
business, should appear in Parliament, and accustom our ears to an
eloquence more commanding and pathetic. And to confirm me in this
opinion, there occur two considerations, the one derived from ancient,
the other from modern times.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Essays" ***

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