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Title: Hume's Political Discourses
Author: Hume, David
Language: English
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The Scott Library.


⁂ For Full List of the Volumes in This Series,
See Catalogue at End of Book.


With an Introduction by William Bell Robertson,
Author of “Foundations of Political Economy,”
“Slavery of Labour,” Etc.

The Walter Scott Publishing Co., Ltd.
London and Felling-on-Tyne.
New York: 3 East 14th Street.


 Introduction                                             vii

 Of Commerce                                                1

 Of Refinement in the Arts                                 15

 Of Money                                                  27

 Of Interest                                               39

 Of the Balance of Trade                                   51

 Of the Jealousy of Trade                                  67

 Of the Balance of Power                                   71

 Of Taxes                                                  78

 Of Public Credit                                          83

 Of some Remarkable Customs                                98

 Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations                   106

 Of the Original Contract                                 174

 Of Passive Obedience                                     192

 Of the Coalition of Parties                              196

 Of the Protestant Succession                             203

 Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth                           214

 That Politics may be Reduced to a Science                229

 Of the First Principles of Government                    243

 Of Political Society                                     247

 Alphabetical Arrangement of Authorities cited by Hume    253


Regretting the meagre records of the life of Adam Smith, the Right
Hon. R. B. Haldane, M.P.,​[1] remarks:—“We think of him, in the main,
and we think of him rightly, as the bosom friend of David Hume” (b.
1711, d. 1777). Naturally, incidents in the life of a philosopher are
neither numerous nor stirring. It is unreasonable to expect them, and
such stories as are handed down regarding great thinkers are best not
to be accepted unreservedly. I leave Hume, therefore, to present his
own picture as drawn in _My own Life_—the picture he wished posterity
to have—which consequently follows this introduction, and is itself
followed by Adam Smith’s celebrated letter to Mr. Strahan, Hume’s
publisher, giving an account of Hume’s death.

It is chiefly as a political economist that Hume concerns us here,
as it is in the _Political Discourses_, first published in 1752, his
economic principles are set forth. What the reader may expect to find
in these _Discourses_ I prefer to let writers of renown tell. Thus Lord

 “Of the _Political Discourses_ it would be difficult to speak in
 terms of too great commendation. They combine almost every excellence
 which can belong to such a performance. The reasoning is clear, and
 unencumbered with more words or more illustrations than are necessary
 for bringing out the doctrines. The learning is extensive, accurate,
 and profound, not only as to systems of philosophy, but as to history,
 whether modern or ancient. . . . The great merit, however, of these
 _Discourses_ is their originality, and the new system of politics
 and political economy which they unfold. Mr. Hume is, beyond all
 doubt, the author of the modern doctrines which now rule the world of
 science, which are to a great extent the guide of practical statesmen,
 and are only prevented from being applied in their fullest extent to
 the affairs of nations by the clashing interests and the ignorant
 prejudices of certain powerful classes.”

Thus, again, J. Hill Burton,​[2] Hume’s biographer—

 “These _Discourses_ are in truth the cradle of political economy; and
 much as that science has been investigated and expounded in later
 times, these earliest, shortest, and simplest developments of its
 principles are still read with delight even by those who are masters
 of all the literature of this great subject. But they possess a
 quality which more elaborate economists have striven after in vain,
 in being a pleasing object of study not only to the initiated, but to
 the ordinary popular reader, and of being admitted as just and true
 by many who cannot or will not understand the views of later writers
 on political economy. They have thus the rarely conjoined merit that,
 as they were the first to direct the way to the true sources of this
 department of knowledge, those who have gone farther, instead of
 superseding them, have in the general case confirmed their accuracy.”

The _Discourses_, in Hume’s own words, was “the only work of mine that
was successful on the first publication,” and its success was great.
Translated into French immediately, “they conferred,” says Professor
Huxley, “a European reputation upon their author; and, what was more
to the purpose, influenced the later school of economists of the
eighteenth century.” On the same head Burton says—“As no Frenchman
had previously approached the subject of political economy with a
philosophical pen, this little book was a main instrument, either by
causing assent or provoking controversy, in producing the host of
French works published between the time of its translation and the
publication of Smith’s _Wealth of Nations_ in 1776. The work of the
elder Mirabeau in particular—_L’ami des Hommes_—was in a great measure
a controversial examination of Hume’s opinions on population.”

Professor Knight of St. Andrews, again, echoes similar sentiments.

 “The merit of the _Discourses_,” he remarks, “is not only great, but
 they are unrivalled to this day; and it is not too much to affirm that
 they prepared the way for all the subsequent economic literature of
 England, including the _Wealth of Nations_, in which Smith laid down
 the broad and durable foundations of the science. . . . The effect
 produced by these _Discourses_ was great. Immediately translated into
 French, they passed through five editions in fourteen years. They
 were a distinctive addition to English literature, and were strictly
 scientific, though not technical. They at once floated Hume into
 fame, bringing him to the front, both as a thinker and as a man of
 letters; and posterity has ratified this judgment of the hour. . . .
 They contain many original germs of economic truth. The effect they
 had on practical statesmen, such as Pitt, must not be overlooked. It
 was perhaps an advantage that the economic doctrines, both of Hume and
 Smith, were published at that particular time, as they led naturally
 and easily to several reforms, without being developed to extremes, as
 was subsequently the case in France.”

All this testimony as to the merits of the _Discourses_—testimony from
men of widely divergent views—is sufficient justification for offering
them in popular form to the public at a time like the present, when the
foundations of political economy are, one might say, being re-laid.​[3]

We have already hinted at the friendship that existed between Hume and
Adam Smith. Hume was Smith’s senior by twelve years, and seems to have
had the latter brought under his notice by Hutcheson, Professor of
Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University. In a letter to Hutcheson, dated
March 4th, 1740, he says—“My bookseller has sent to Mr. Smith a copy
of my book,​[4] which I hope he has received as well as your letter.”
“The Smith here mentioned,” Burton says, “we may fairly conclude,
notwithstanding the universality of the name, to be Adam Smith, who was
then a student in the University of Glasgow, and not quite seventeen
years old. It may be inferred that Hutcheson had mentioned Smith as a
person on whom it would serve some good purpose to bestow a copy of
the _Treatise_; and we have here evidently the first introduction to
each other’s notice of two friends, of whom it can be said there was no
third person writing the English language during the same period who
has had so much influence upon the opinions of mankind as either of
these two men.”

Hume’s influence upon Adam Smith was great. Even in the ring of the
phraseology of the _Wealth of Nations_ I sometimes fancy I can hear
Hume. Anyway, the book referred to in the above letter as sent to
Smith, Mr. Haldane considers as “in all probability” the determining
factor in making Smith abandon his original intention of entering the
Church. “Whether Hume could have been but for Smith we cannot now say;
but we know that, but for Hume, Smith could never have been.”​[5] While
agreeing that “but for Hume Smith could never have been,” I see no
reason to question that Hume could have been without Smith. Hume had
within him what may here be called the divine light, and it had to come
out. That is why, “in poverty and riches, in health and sickness, in
laborious obscurity and amidst the blaze of fame,” his ruling passion—a
passion for literature—never abated. No man can strike out for himself
an original line and stick to it like this, “through thick and thin,”
unless he have assurance of the truth of that that is in him. Hume had
this assurance. True, he sought fame—and he achieved fame; not for its
own sake—that is inconceivable in so great a thinker, a thinker with
such a true notion of the relation of things—but for the sake of the
truths he had to promulgate; for the higher his eminence the wider and
more attentive would be his audience. Of course, he sought fame, and
he found gratification in it. It was not the gratification of vanity,
however, that writers on Hume usually interpret it as; it was the
gratification arising from the knowledge that one has hit the mark—that
one has not laboured in vain. The petty vanity ascribed to Hume would
not have suffered him as “the parent of the first elucidations of
political economy to see his own offspring eclipsed, and to see it with
pride”—his attitude, according to Burton, on the successful reception
of _The Wealth of Nations_. Vanity, again, would have prevented between
these two men that unalloyed friendship so charming to contemplate.

In 1776, the year before Hume’s death, _The Wealth of Nations_
appeared, and here is how Hume writes to the author:—

 “_February_ 8, 1776.

 “DEAR SMITH,—I am as lazy a correspondent as you, yet my anxiety about
 you makes me write. By all accounts your book has been printed long
 ago; yet it has never been so much as advertized. What is the reason?
 If you wait till the fate of America be decided, you may wait long.

 “By all accounts you intend to settle with us this spring; yet we hear
 no more of it. What is the reason? Your chamber in my house is always
 unoccupied. I am always at home. I expect you to land here.

 “I have been, am, and shall be probably in an indifferent state of
 health. I weighed myself t’other day, and find I have fallen five
 complete stones. If you delay much longer I shall probably disappear

 “The Duke of Buccleuch tells me that you are very zealous in American
 affairs. My notion is that the matter is not so important as is
 commonly imagined. If I be mistaken, I shall probably correct my error
 when I see you or read you. Our navigation and general commerce may
 suffer more than our manufactures. Should London fall as much in its
 size as I have done, it will be the better. It is nothing but a hulk
 of bad and unclean humours.”

At last the book appears, and Hume writes his friend, April 1st, 1776:—

 “I am much pleased with your performance; and the perusal of it has
 taken me from a state of great anxiety. It was a work of so much
 expectation by yourself, by your friends, and by the public, that I
 trembled for its first appearance, but am now much relieved. Not but
 that the reading of it necessarily requires so much attention, and
 the public is disposed to give so little, that I shall still doubt
 for some time of its being at first very popular. But it has depth
 and solidity and acuteness, and is so much illustrated by curious
 facts that it must at last take the public attention. It is probably
 much improved by your last abode in London. If you were here at my
 fireside, I should dispute some of your principles. I cannot think
 that the rent of farms makes any part of the price of produce,​[6]
 but that the price is determined altogether by the quantity and the
 demand. . . . But these and a hundred other points are fit only to be
 discussed in conversation.”

Hume, though he “took a particular pleasure in the company of modest
women, and had no reason to be displeased with the reception he met
with from them,” died unmarried. Adam Smith also died unmarried,
“though he was for several years,” according to Dugald Stewart,
“attached to a young lady of great beauty and accomplishment.” Hume, in
the Essay “Of the Study of History,” speaks of being desired once by “a
young beauty _for whom I had some passion_ to send her some novels and
romances for her amusement.” David was a “canny” man though. In these
circumstances the following playful sally in a letter from Hume to Mrs.
Dysart, of Eccles, a relative, may have interest:—“What arithmetic
will serve to fix the proportion between good and bad wives, and rate
the different classes of each? Sir Isaac Newton himself, who could
measure the course of the planets and weigh the earth as in a pair of
scales—even he had not algebra enough to reduce that amiable part of
our species to a just equation; and they are the only heavenly bodies
whose orbits are as yet uncertain.”

The foregoing are mere glimpses of this truly great man, and are
offered with a view to awakening and stimulating amongst general
readers a desire for first-hand knowledge of David Hume.

W. B. R.

_May_ 1906.


It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity;
therefore, I shall be short. It may be thought an instance of vanity
that I pretend at all to write my life; but this narrative shall
contain little more than the History of my Writings; as, indeed, almost
all my life has been spent in literary pursuits and occupations. The
first success of most of my writings was not such as to be an object of

I was born the 26th of April 1711, old style, at Edinburgh. I was of a
good family, both by father and mother. My father’s family is a branch
of the Earl of Home’s or Hume’s; and my ancestors had been proprietors
of the estate, which my brother possesses, for several generations. My
mother was daughter of Sir David Falconer, President of the College of
Justice; the title of Halkerton came by succession to her brother.

My family, however, was not rich; and, being myself a younger brother,
my patrimony, according to the mode of my country, was of course very
slender. My father, who passed for a man of parts, died when I was
an infant, leaving me, with an elder brother and a sister, under the
care of our mother, a woman of singular merit, who, though young and
handsome, devoted herself entirely to the rearing and educating of
her children. I passed through the ordinary course of education with
success, and was seized very early with a passion for literature, which
has been the ruling passion of my life, and the great source of my
enjoyments. My studious disposition, my sobriety, and my industry gave
my family a notion that the law was a proper profession for me; but
I found an insurmountable aversion to everything but the pursuits of
philosophy and general learning; and while they fancied I was poring
upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was
secretly devouring.

My very slender fortune, however, being unsuitable to this plan of
life, and my health being a little broken by my ardent application, I
was tempted, or rather forced, to make a very feeble trial for entering
into a more active scene of life. In 1734 I went to Bristol, with some
recommendations to eminent merchants, but in a few months found that
scene totally unsuitable to me. I went over to France, with a view of
prosecuting my studies in a country retreat, and I there 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.

During my retreat in France, first at Rheims, but chiefly at La Fleche,
in Anjou, I composed my _Treatise of Human Nature_. After passing three
years very agreeably in that country, I came over to London in 1737.
In the end of 1738 I published my Treatise, and immediately went down
to my mother and my brother, who lived at his country-house, and was
employing himself very judiciously and successfully in the improvement
of his fortune.

Never literary attempt was more unfortunate than my _Treatise of Human
Nature_. It fell _dead-born from the press_, without reaching such
distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots. But being
naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon recovered
the blow, and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country.
In 1742 I printed at Edinburgh the first part of my Essays: the work
was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former
disappointment. I continued with my mother and brother in the country,
and in that time recovered the knowledge of the Greek language, which I
had too much neglected in my early youth.

In 1745 I received a letter from the Marquis of Annandale, inviting me
to come and live with him in England; I found also that the friends
and family of that young nobleman were desirous of putting him under
my care and direction, for the state of his mind and health required
it. I lived with him a twelvemonth. My appointments during that time
made a considerable accession to my small fortune. I then received
an invitation from General St. Clair to attend him as a secretary to
his expedition, which was at first meant against Canada, but ended
in an incursion on the coast of France. Next year—to wit, 1747—I
received an invitation from the General to attend him in the same
station in his military embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin.
I then wore the uniform of an officer, and was introduced at these
courts as aide-de-camp to the General, along with Sir Harry Erskine
and Captain Grant, now General Grant. These two years were almost the
only interruptions which 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.

I had always entertained a notion that my want of success in publishing
the _Treatise of Human Nature_ had proceeded more from the manner than
the matter, and that I had been guilty of a very usual indiscretion in
going to the press too _early_. I, therefore, cast the first part of
that work anew in the _Inquiry concerning Human Understanding_, which
was published while I was at Turin. But this piece was at first little
more successful than the _Treatise of Human Nature_. On my return
from Italy, I had the mortification to find all England in a ferment
on account of Dr. Middleton’s _Free Inquiry_, while my performance
was entirely overlooked and neglected. A new edition, which had been
published at London, of my _Essays, Moral and Political_, met not with
a much better reception.

Such is the force of natural temper, that these disappointments made
little or no impression on me. I went down in 1749 and lived two years
with my brother at his country-house, for my mother was now dead. I
there composed the second part of my Essays, which I called _Political
Discourses_, and also my _Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals_,
which is another part of my Treatise that I cast anew. Meanwhile, my
bookseller, A. Millar, informed me that my former publications (all
but the unfortunate Treatise) were beginning to be the subject of
conversation; that the sale of them was gradually increasing, and that
new editions were demanded. Answers by Reverends and Right Reverends
came out two or three in a year; and I found, by Dr. Warburton’s
railing, that the books were beginning to be esteemed in good company.
However, I had a fixed resolution, which I inflexibly maintained, never
to reply to anybody; and not being very irascible in my temper, I have
easily kept myself clear of all literary squabbles. These symptoms of
a rising reputation gave me encouragement, as I was ever more disposed
to see the favourable than unfavourable side of things; a turn of mind
which it is more happy to possess than to be born to an estate of ten
thousand a year.

In 1751 I removed from the country to the town, the true scene for
a man of letters. In 1752 were published at Edinburgh, where I then
lived, my _Political Discourses_, the only work of mine that was
successful on the first publication. It was well received abroad
and at home. In the same year was published at London my _Inquiry
concerning the Principles of Morals_; which, in my own opinion (who
ought not to judge on that subject), is of all my writings, historical,
philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best. It came unnoticed
and unobserved into the world.

In 1752 the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an office
from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave me
the command of a large library. I then formed the plan of writing
the _History of England_; but being frightened with the notion of
continuing a narrative through a period of seventeen hundred years, I
commenced with the accession of the House of Stuart, an epoch when,
I thought, the misrepresentations of faction began chiefly to take
place. I was, I own, sanguine in my expectations of the success of
this work. I thought that I was the only historian that had at once
neglected present power, interest, and authority, and the cry of
popular prejudices; and as the subject was suited to every capacity, I
expected proportional applause. But miserable was my disappointment:
I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even
detestation; English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, Churchman and
Sectary, Freethinker and Religionist, Patriot and Courtier, united in
their rage against the man who had presumed to shed a generous tear for
the fate of Charles I. and the Earl of Strafford; and after the first
ebullitions of their fury were over, what was still more mortifying,
the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr. Millar told me that in a
twelvemonth, he sold only forty-five copies of it. I scarcely, indeed,
heard of one man in the three kingdoms, considerable for rank or
letters, that could endure the book. I must only except the Primate
of England, Dr. Herring, and the Primate of Ireland, Dr. Stone, which
seem two odd exceptions. These dignified prelates separately sent me
messages not to be discouraged.

I was, however, I confess, discouraged; and had not the war been at
that time breaking out between France and England, I had certainly
retired to some provincial town of the former kingdom, have changed
my name, and never more have returned to my native country. But as
this scheme was not now practicable, and the subsequent volume was
considerably advanced, I resolved to pick up courage, and to persevere.

In this interval I published at London my _Natural History of
Religion_, along with some other small pieces. Its public entry was
rather obscure, except only that Dr. Hurd wrote a pamphlet against
it, with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and scurrility which
distinguish the Warburtonian school. This pamphlet gave me some
consolation for the otherwise indifferent reception of my performance.

In 1756, two years after the fall of the first volume, was published
the second volume of my _History_, containing the period from the death
of Charles I. till the Revolution. This performance happened to give
less displeasure to the Whigs, and was better received. It not only
rose itself, but helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother.

But though I had been taught, by experience, that the Whig party
were in possession of bestowing all places, both in the State and
in literature, I was so little inclined to yield to their senseless
clamour, that in about a hundred alterations which further study,
reading, or reflection engaged me to make in the reigns of the two
first Stuarts, I have made all of them invariably to the Tory side. It
is ridiculous to consider the English constitution before that period
as a regular plan of liberty.

In 1759 I published my _History of the House of Tudor_. The clamour
against this performance was almost equal to that against the history
of the two first Stuarts. The reign of Elizabeth was particularly
obnoxious. But I was now callous against the impressions of public
folly, and continued very peaceably and contentedly in my retreat
at Edinburgh, to finish, in two volumes, the more early part of the
English History, which I gave to the public in 1761, with tolerable,
and but tolerable success.

But notwithstanding this variety of winds and seasons, to which my
writings had been exposed, they had still been making such advances
that the copy-money given me by the booksellers much exceeded anything
formerly known in England; I was become not only independent, but
opulent. I retired to my native country of Scotland, determined never
more to set my foot out of it; and retaining the satisfaction of never
having preferred a request to one great man, or even making advances
of friendship to any of them. As I was now turned of fifty, I thought
of passing all the rest of my life in this philosophical manner, when
I received, in 1763, an invitation from the Earl of Hertford, with
whom I was not in the least acquainted, to attend him on his embassy
to Paris, with a near prospect of being appointed Secretary to the
embassy, and, in the meanwhile, of performing the functions of that
office. This offer, however inviting, I at first declined, both because
I was reluctant to begin connections with the great, and because I was
afraid the civilities and gay company of Paris would prove disagreeable
to a person of my age and humour; but on his lordship’s repeating the
invitation, I accepted of it. I have every reason, both of pleasure and
interest, to think myself happy in my connections with that nobleman,
as well as afterwards with his brother, General Conway.

Those who have not seen the strange effects of Modes, will never
imagine the reception I met with at Paris, from men and women of all
ranks and stations. The more I resiled from their excessive civilities,
the more I was loaded with them. There is, however, a real satisfaction
in living in Paris, from the great number of sensible, knowing, and
polite company with which that city abounds above all places in the
universe. I thought once of settling there for life.

I was appointed Secretary to the embassy; and in summer 1765, Lord
Hertford left me, being appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. I was
_chargé d’affaires_ till the arrival of the Duke of Richmond, towards
the end of the year. In the beginning of 1766 I left Paris, and next
summer went to Edinburgh, with the same view as formerly, of burying
myself in a philosophical retreat. I returned to that place, not
richer, but with much more money, and a much larger income, by means
of Lord Hertford’s friendship, than I left it; and I was desirous
of trying what superfluity could produce, as I had formerly made an
experiment of a competency. But in 1767 I received from Mr. Conway
an invitation to be Under Secretary; and this invitation, both the
character of the person and my connections with Lord Hertford prevented
me from declining. I returned to Edinburgh in 1769, very opulent (for
I possessed a revenue of £1000 a year), healthy, and, though somewhat
stricken in years, with the prospect of enjoying long my ease, and of
seeing the increase of my reputation.

In spring 1775, I was struck with a disorder in my bowels, which at
first gave me no alarm, but has since, as I apprehend it, become
mortal and incurable. 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 my 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 knew 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, which
emboldens me the more to speak my sentiments)—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 anywise 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 never could 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.

_April_ 18, 1776.


“KIRKCALDY, FIFESHIRE, _Nov._ 9, 1776.

“DEAR SIR,—It is with a real, though a very melancholy pleasure, that
I sit down to give you some account of the behaviour of our excellent
friend, Mr. Hume, during his last illness.

“Though, in his own judgment, his disease was mortal and incurable,
yet he allowed himself to be prevailed upon, by the entreaty of his
friends, to try what might be the effects of a long journey. A few days
before he set out he wrote that account of his own life which, together
with his other papers, he has left to your care. My account, therefore,
shall begin where his ends.

“He set out for London towards the end of April, and at Morpeth met
with Mr. John Home and myself, who had both come down from London to
see him, expecting to have found him in Edinburgh. Mr. Home returned
with him, and attended him during the whole of his stay in England,
with that care and attention which might be expected from a temper so
perfectly friendly and affectionate. As I had written to my mother
that she might expect me in Scotland, I was under the necessity of
continuing my journey. His disease seemed to yield to exercise and
change of air, and when he arrived in London he was apparently in much
better health than when he left Edinburgh. He was advised to go to
Bath to drink the waters, which appeared for some time to have so good
an effect upon him that even he himself began to entertain, what he
was not apt to do, a better opinion of his own health. His symptoms,
however, soon returned with their usual violence, and from that moment
he gave up all thoughts of recovery, but submitted with the utmost
cheerfulness, and the most perfect complacency and resignation. Upon
his return to Edinburgh, though he found himself much weaker, yet his
cheerfulness never abated, and he continued to divert himself as usual,
with correcting his own works for a new edition, and reading books of
amusement, with the conversation of his friends, and, sometimes in the
evening, with a party at his favourite game of whist. His cheerfulness
was so great, his conversation and amusements ran so much in their
usual strain that, notwithstanding all bad symptoms, many people
could not believe he was dying. ‘I shall tell your friend, Colonel
Edmondstone,’ said Doctor Dundas to him one day, ‘that I left you
much better, and in a fair way of recovery.’ ‘Doctor,’ said he, ‘as I
believe you would not choose to tell anything but the truth, you had
better tell him that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any,
could wish, and as easily and as cheerfully as my best friends could
desire.’ Colonel Edmondstone soon afterwards came to see him, and took
leave of him; and on his way home he could not forbear writing him a
letter bidding him once more an eternal adieu, and applying to him, as
a dying man, the beautiful French verses in which the Abbé Chaulieu,
in expectation of his own death, laments his approaching separation
from his friend, the Marquis de la Fare. Mr. Hume’s magnanimity and
firmness were such, that his most affectionate friends knew that they
hazarded nothing in talking or writing to him as to a dying man,
and that, so far from being hurt by this frankness, he was rather
pleased and flattered by it. I happened to come into his room while
he was reading this letter, which he had just received, and which he
immediately showed me. I told him that though I was sensible how very
much he was weakened, and that appearances were in many respects very
bad yet his cheerfulness was still so great, the spirit of life seemed
still to be so very strong in him, that I could not help
entertaining some faint hopes. He answered—‘Your hopes are groundless.
An habitual diarrhœa of more than a year’s standing would be a very bad
disease at any age: at my age it is a mortal one. When I lie down in
the evening, I feel myself weaker than when I rose in the morning; and
when I rise in the morning, weaker than when I lay down in the evening.
I am sensible, besides, that some of my vital parts are affected, so
that I must soon die.’ ‘Well,’ said I, ‘if it must be so, you have at
least the satisfaction of leaving all your friends, your brother’s
family in particular, in great prosperity.’ He said that he felt that
satisfaction so sensibly, that when he was reading a few days before,
Lucian’s _Dialogues of the Dead_, among all the excuses which are
alleged to Charon for not entering readily into his boat, he could not
find one that fitted him: he had no house to finish, he had no daughter
to provide for, he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge
himself. ‘I could not well imagine,’ said he, ‘what excuse I could make
to Charon in order to obtain a little delay. I have done everything of
consequence which I ever meant to do; and I could at no time expect
to leave my relations and friends in a better situation than that in
which I am now like to leave them; I therefore have all reason to die
contented.’ He then diverted himself with inventing several jocular
excuses, which he supposed he might make to Charon, and with imagining
the very surly answers which it might suit the character of Charon
to return to them. ‘Upon further consideration,’ said he, ‘I thought
I might say to him, good Charon, I have been correcting my works for
a new edition; allow me a little time that I may see how the public
receives the alterations.’ But Charon would answer, ‘When you have seen
the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There
will be no end of such excuses; so, honest friend, please step into the
boat.’ But I might still urge, ‘Have a little patience, good Charon;
I have been endeavouring to open the eyes of the public. If I live a
few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall
of some of the prevailing systems of superstition.’ But Charon would
then lose all temper and decency. ‘You loitering rogue; that will not
happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease
for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy, loitering

“But though Mr. Hume always talked of his approaching dissolution
with great cheerfulness, he never affected to make any parade of his
magnanimity. He never mentioned the subject but when the conversation
naturally led to it, and never dwelt longer upon it than the course of
the conversation happened to require; it was a subject, indeed, which
occurred pretty frequently, in consequence of the inquiries which his
friends who came to see him naturally made concerning the state of his
health. The conversation which I mentioned above, and which passed
on Thursday the 8th of August, was the last except one that I ever
had with him. He had now become so very weak that the company of his
most intimate friends fatigued him; for his cheerfulness was still so
great, his complaisance and social disposition were still so entire,
that when any friend was with him he could not help talking more, and
with greater exertion than suited the weakness of his body. At his own
desire, therefore, I agreed to leave Edinburgh, where I was staying
partly upon his account, and returned to my mother’s house here, at
Kirkcaldy, upon condition that he would send for me whenever he wished
to see me; the physician who saw him most frequently, Dr. Black,
undertaking in the meantime to write me occasionally an account of the
state of his health.

“On the 22nd of August the doctor wrote me the following letter:—

“‘Since my last Mr. Hume has passed his time pretty easily, but is much
weaker. He sits up, goes downstairs once a day, and amuses himself with
reading, but seldom sees anybody. He finds that even the conversation
of his most intimate friends fatigues and oppresses him; and it is
happy that he does not need it, for he is quite free from anxiety,
impatience, or low spirits, and passes his time very well with the
assistance of amusing books.’

“I received the day after a letter from Mr. Hume himself, of which the
following is an extract:—

“‘EDINBURGH, _August_ 23, 1776.

“‘MY DEAREST FRIEND,—I am obliged to make use of my nephew’s hand in
writing to you, as I do not rise to-day.

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

“‘I go very fast to decline, and last night had a small fever, which I
hoped might put a quicker period to this tedious illness; but unluckily
it has, in a great measure, gone off. I cannot submit to your coming
over here on my account, as it is possible for me to see you so small
a part of the day, but Dr. Black can better inform you concerning the
degree of strength which may from time to time remain with me. Adieu,

“Three days after I received the following letter from Dr. Black:—

“‘EDINBURGH, _August_ 26_th_, 1776.

“‘DEAR SIR,—Yesterday, about four o’clock afternoon, Mr. Hume expired.
The near approach of his death became evident in the night between
Thursday and Friday, when his disease became excessive, and soon
weakened him so much that he could no longer rise out of his bed. He
continued to the last perfectly sensible, and free from much pain
or feeling of distress. He never dropped the smallest expression of
impatience, but when he had occasion to speak to the people about him
always did it with affection and tenderness. I thought it improper to
write to bring you over, especially as I heard that he had dictated a
letter to you desiring you not to come. When he became very weak it
cost him an effort to speak, and he died in such a happy composure of
mind that nothing could exceed it!’

“Thus died our most excellent and never-to-be-forgotten friend,
concerning whose philosophical opinions men will, no doubt, judge
variously, every one approving or condemning them according as they
happen to coincide or disagree with his own; but concerning whose
character and conduct there can scarce be a difference of opinion.
His temper, indeed, seemed to be more happily balanced—if I may be
allowed such an expression—than that perhaps of any other man I have
ever known. Even in the lowest state of his fortune his great and
necessary frugality never hindered him from exercising, upon proper
occasions, acts both of charity and generosity. It was a frugality
founded not upon avarice but upon the love of independency. The extreme
gentleness of his nature never weakened either the firmness of his mind
or the steadiness of his resolutions. His constant pleasantry was the
genuine effusion of good-nature and good-humour tempered with delicacy
and modesty, and without even the slightest tincture of malignity—so
frequently the disagreeable source of what is called wit in other men.
It never was the meaning of his raillery to mortify, and therefore, far
from offending, it seldom failed to please and delight even those who
were the object of it. To his friends—who were frequently the object of
it—there was not perhaps any one of all his great and amiable qualities
which contributed more to endear his conversation. And that gaiety of
temper, so agreeable in society, but which is so often accompanied with
frivolous and superficial qualities, was in him certainly attended
with the most severe application, the most extensive learning, the
greatest depth of thought, and a capacity in every respect the most
comprehensive. Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in
his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea
of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human
frailty will permit.

“I ever am, dear sir, most affectionately yours,


⁂ “It is a usual fallacy,” says Hume in “Of the Populousness of Ancient
Nations,” “to consider all the ages of antiquity as one period.” The
dates given in the Appendix may serve as a corrective in this regard.


[1] _Life of Adam Smith_, “Great Writers” series.

[2] _Life and Correspondence of David Hume_, 1846.

[3] See _Foundations of Political Economy_, The Walter Scott Publishing
Company, Limited.

[4] His _Treatise of Human Nature_, regarding the publication of which
he wrote in 1751 to Sir Gilbert Elliot, of Minto—“I was carried away
by the heat of youth and invention to publish too precipitately. So
vast an undertaking, planned before I was one-and-twenty, and composed
before I was twenty-five, must necessarily be very defective. I have
repented my haste a hundred and a hundred times.”

[5] Haldane, _Life of Adam Smith_, “Great Writers” series.

[6] Hume’s view is the juster here.


[Illustration, ornamental]


The greatest part of mankind may be divided into two classes: that of
shallow thinkers, who fall short of the truth; and that of abstruse
thinkers, who go beyond it. The latter class are by far the most
uncommon; and I may add, by far the most useful and valuable. They
suggest hints, at least, and start difficulties, which they want,
perhaps, skill to pursue; but which may produce very fine discoveries,
when handled by men who have a more just way of thinking. At worst,
what they say is uncommon; and if it should cost some pains to
comprehend it, one has, however, the pleasure of hearing something that
is new. An author is little to be valued who tells us nothing but what
we can learn from every coffee-house conversation.

All people of shallow thought are apt to decry even those of solid
understanding, as abstruse thinkers, and metaphysicians, and refiners;
and never will allow anything to be just which is beyond their own
weak conceptions. There are some cases, I own, where an extraordinary
refinement affords a strong presumption of falsehood, and where no
reasoning is to be trusted but what is natural and easy. When a man
deliberates concerning his conduct in any particular affair, and
forms schemes in politics, trade, economy, or any business in life,
he never ought to draw his arguments too fine, or connect too long
a chain of consequences together. Something is sure to happen that
will disconcert his reasoning, and produce an event different
from what he expected. But when we reason upon general subjects,
one may justly affirm that our speculations can scarce ever be too
fine, provided they be just; and that the difference between a common
man and a man of genius is chiefly seen in the shallowness or depth
of the principles upon which they proceed. General reasonings seem
intricate, merely because they are general; nor is it easy for the
bulk of mankind to distinguish, in a great number of particulars, that
common circumstance in which they all agree, or to extract it, pure
and unmixed, from the other superfluous circumstances. Every judgment
or conclusion, with them, is particular. They cannot enlarge their
view to those universal propositions which comprehend under them an
infinite number of individuals, and include a whole science in a single
theorem. Their eye is confounded with such an extensive prospect; and
the conclusions derived from it, even though clearly expressed, seem
intricate and obscure. But however intricate they may seem, it is
certain that general principles, if just and sound, must always prevail
in the general course of things, though they may fail in particular
cases; and it is the chief business of philosophers to regard the
general course of things. I may add that it is also the chief business
of politicians; especially in the domestic government of the state,
where the public good, which is, or ought to be, their object, depends
on the concurrence of a multitude of cases; not, as in foreign
politics, on accidents and chances, and the caprices of a few persons.
This therefore makes the difference between particular deliberations
and general reasonings, and renders subtlety and refinement much more
suitable to the latter than to the former.

I thought this introduction necessary before the following discourses
on commerce, money, interest, balance of trade, etc., where, perhaps,
there will occur some principles which are uncommon, and which may seem
too refined and subtle for such vulgar subjects. If false, let them be
rejected; but no one ought to entertain a prejudice against them merely
because they are out of the common road.

The greatness of a state, and the happiness of its subjects, however
independent they may be supposed in some respects, are commonly allowed
to be inseparable with regard to commerce; and as private men receive
greater security in the possession of their trade and riches from the
power of the public, so the public becomes powerful in proportion to
the riches and extensive commerce of private men. This maxim is true in
general, though I cannot forbear thinking that it may possibly admit of
some exceptions, and that we often establish it with too little reserve
and limitation. There may be some circumstances where the commerce,
and riches, and luxury of individuals, instead of adding strength
to the public, will serve only to thin its armies, and diminish its
authority among the neighbouring nations. Man is a very variable being,
and susceptible of many different opinions, principles, and rules of
conduct. What may be true while he adheres to one way of thinking will
be found false when he has embraced an opposite set of manners and

The bulk of every state may be divided into husbandmen and
manufacturers. The former are employed in the culture of the land;
the latter work up the materials furnished by the former, into all
the commodities which are necessary and ornamental to human life.
As soon as men quit their savage state, where they live chiefly by
hunting and fishing, they must fall into these two classes; though
the arts of agriculture employ at first the most numerous part of the
society.​[7] Time and experience improve so much these arts, that the
land may easily maintain a much greater number of men than those who
are immediately employed in its cultivation, or who furnish the
more necessary manufactures to such as are so employed.

If these superfluous hands apply themselves to the finer arts, which
are commonly denominated the arts of luxury, they add to the happiness
of the state, since they afford to many the opportunity of receiving
enjoyments with which they would otherwise have been unacquainted.
But may not another scheme be proposed for the employment of these
superfluous hands? May not the sovereign lay claim to them, and
employ them in fleets and armies, to increase the dominions of the
state abroad, and spread its fame over distant nations? It is certain
that the fewer desires and wants are found in the proprietors and
labourers of land, the fewer hands do they employ; and consequently
the superfluities of the land, instead of maintaining tradesmen and
manufacturers, may support fleets and armies to a much greater extent
than where a great many arts are required to minister to the luxury of
particular persons. Here therefore seems to be a kind of opposition
between the greatness of the state and the happiness of the subjects. A
state is never greater than when all its superfluous hands are employed
in the service of the public. The ease and convenience of private
persons require that these hands should be employed in their service.
The one can never be satisfied but at the expense of the other. As the
ambition of the sovereign must entrench on the luxury of individuals,
so the luxury of individuals must diminish the force and check the
ambition of the sovereign.

Nor is this reasoning merely chimerical, but is founded on history and
experience. The republic of Sparta was certainly more powerful than any
state now in the world, consisting of an equal number of people, and
this was owing entirely to the want of commerce and luxury. The Helotes
were the labourers: the Spartans were the soldiers or gentlemen. It is
evident that the labour of the Helotes could not have maintained so
great a number of Spartans, had these latter lived in ease and delicacy
and given employment to a great variety of trades and manufactures.
The like policy may be remarked in Rome. And indeed, through all
ancient history, it is observable that the smallest republics raised
and maintained greater armies than states consisting of triple the
number of inhabitants are able to support at present. It is computed
that in all European nations the proportion between soldiers and
people does not exceed one to a hundred. But we read that the city of
Rome alone, with its small territory, raised and maintained, in early
times, ten legions against the Latins. Athens, whose whole dominions
were not larger than Yorkshire, sent to the expedition against Sicily
near forty thousand men. Dionysius the elder, it is said, maintained
a standing army of a hundred thousand foot and ten thousand horse,
besides a large fleet of four hundred sail,​[8] though his territories
extended no farther than the city of Syracuse, about a third part
of the island of Sicily, and some seaport towns or garrisons on the
coast of Italy and Illyricum. It is true the ancient armies, in time
of war, subsisted much upon plunder; but did not the enemy plunder in
their turn? which was a more ruinous way of levying tax than any other
that could be devised. In short, no probable reason can be assigned
for the great power of the more ancient states above the modern but
their want of commerce and luxury. Few artisans were maintained by the
labour of the farmers, and therefore more soldiers might live upon it.
Titus Livius says that Rome, in his time, would find it difficult to
raise as large an army as that which, in her early days, she sent out
against the Gauls and Latins. Instead of those soldiers who fought for
liberty and empire in Camillus’s time, there were in Augustus’s days
musicians, painters, cooks, players, and tailors; and if the land was
equally cultivated at both periods, it is evident it could maintain
equal numbers in the one profession as in the other. They added nothing
to the mere necessaries of life in the latter period more than in the

It is natural on this occasion to ask whether sovereigns may not return
to the maxims of ancient policy, and consult their own interest in
this respect more than the happiness of their subjects. I answer that
it appears to me almost impossible; and that because ancient policy
was violent, and contrary to the more natural and usual course of
things. It is well known with what peculiar laws Sparta was governed,
and what a prodigy that republic is justly esteemed by every one who
has considered human nature, as it has displayed itself in other
nations and other ages. Were the testimony of history less positive and
circumstantial, such a government would appear a mere philosophical
whim or fiction, and impossible ever to be reduced to practice.
And though the Roman and other ancient republics were supported on
principles somewhat more natural, yet was there a very extraordinary
concurrence of circumstances to make them submit to such grievous
burdens. They were free states; they were small ones; and the age
being martial, all the neighbouring states were continually in arms.
Freedom naturally begets public spirit, especially in small states; and
this public spirit, this _amor patriæ_, must increase when the public
is almost in continual alarm, and men are obliged every moment to
expose themselves to the greatest dangers for its defence. A continual
succession of wars makes every citizen a soldier: he takes the field
in his turn, and during his service is chiefly maintained by himself.
And notwithstanding that his service is equivalent to a very severe
tax, it is less felt by a people addicted to arms, who fight for honour
and revenge more than pay, and are unacquainted with gain and industry
as well as pleasure.​[9] Not to mention the great equality of
fortunes amongst the inhabitants of the ancient republics, where every
field belonging to a different proprietor was able to maintain a
family, and rendered the numbers of citizens very considerable, even
without trade and manufactures.

But though the want of trade and manufactures, amongst a free and very
martial people, may sometimes have no other effect than to render the
public more powerful, it is certain that, in the common course of human
affairs, it will have a quite contrary tendency. Sovereigns must take
mankind as they find them, and cannot pretend to introduce any violent
change in their principles and ways of thinking. A long course of time,
with a variety of accidents and circumstances, is requisite to produce
those great revolutions which so much diversify the face of human
affairs. And the less natural any set of principles are which support
a particular society, the more difficulty will a legislator meet with
in raising and cultivating them. It is his best policy to comply with
the common bent of mankind, and give it all the improvements of which
it is susceptible. Now, according to the most natural course of things,
industry, and arts, and trade increase the power of the sovereign as
well as the happiness of the subjects; and that policy is violent
which aggrandizes the public by the poverty of individuals. This will
easily appear from a few considerations, which will present to us the
consequences of sloth and barbarity.

Where manufactures and mechanic arts are not cultivated, the bulk of
the people must apply themselves to agriculture; and if their skill
and industry increase, there must arise a great superfluity
from their labour beyond what suffices to maintain them. They have no
temptation, therefore, to increase their skill and industry; since they
cannot exchange that superfluity for any commodities which may serve
either to their pleasure or vanity. A habit of indolence naturally
prevails. The greater part of the land lies uncultivated. What is
cultivated yields not its utmost, for want of skill or assiduity in
the farmer. If at any time the public exigencies require that great
numbers should be employed in the public service, the labour of the
people furnishes now no superfluities by which these numbers can be
maintained. The labourers cannot increase their skill and industry on
a sudden. Lands uncultivated cannot be brought into tillage for some
years. The armies, meanwhile, must either make sudden and violent
conquests, or disband for want of subsistence. A regular attack or
defence, therefore, is not to be expected from such a people, and
their soldiers must be as ignorant and unskilful as their farmers and

Everything in the world is purchased by labour, and our passions are
the only causes of labour. When a nation abounds in manufactures and
mechanic arts, the proprietors of land, as well as the farmers, study
agriculture as a science, and redouble their industry and attention.
The superfluity which arises from their labour is not lost, but is
exchanged with the manufacturers for those commodities which men’s
luxury now makes them covet. By this means land furnishes a great
deal more of the necessaries of life than what suffices for those who
cultivate it. In times of peace and tranquillity this superfluity goes
to the maintenance of manufacturers, and the improvers of liberal arts.
But it is easy for the public to convert many of these manufacturers
into soldiers, and maintain them by that superfluity which arises from
the labour of the farmers. Accordingly we find that this is the case
in all civilized governments. When the sovereign raises an army, what
is the consequence? He imposes a tax. This tax obliges all the people
to retrench what is least necessary to their subsistence. Those
who labour in such commodities must either enlist in the troops or
turn themselves to agriculture, and thereby oblige some labourers to
enlist for want of business. And to consider the matter abstractly,
manufactures increase the power of the state only as they store up so
much labour, and that of a kind to which the public may lay claim,
without depriving any one of the necessaries of life. The more labour,
therefore, is employed beyond mere necessaries, the more powerful is
any state; since the persons engaged in that labour may easily be
converted to the public service. In a state without manufactures there
may be the same number of hands; but there is not the same quantity of
labour, nor of the same kind. All the labour is there bestowed upon
necessaries, which can admit of little or no abatement.

Thus the greatness of the sovereign and the happiness of the state
are, in a great measure, united with regard to trade and manufactures.
It is a violent method, and in most cases impracticable, to oblige
the labourer to toil in order to raise from the land more than what
subsists himself and family. Furnish him with manufactures and
commodities, and he will do it of himself. Afterwards you will find it
easy to seize some part of his superfluous labour, and employ it in the
public service, without giving him his wonted return. Being accustomed
to industry, he will think this less grievous than if, at once, you
obliged him to an augmentation of labour without any reward. The case
is the same with regard to the other members of the state. The greater
is the stock of labour of all kinds, the greater quantity may be taken
from the heap without making any sensible alteration upon it.

A public granary of corn, a storehouse of cloth, a magazine of arms;
all these must be allowed real riches and strength in any state. Trade
and industry are really nothing but a stock of labour, which, in time
of peace and tranquillity, is employed for the ease and satisfaction of
individuals; but in the exigencies of state, may, in part, be turned
to public advantage. Could we convert a city into a kind of fortified
camp, and infuse into each breast so martial a genius, and such
a passion for public good, as to make every one willing to undergo the
greatest hardships for the sake of the public, these affections might
now, as in ancient times, prove alone a sufficient spur to industry,
and support the community. It would then be advantageous, as in camps,
to banish all arts and luxury; and, by restrictions on equipage and
tables, make the provisions and forage last longer than if the army
were loaded with a number of superfluous retainers. But as these
principles are too disinterested and too difficult to support, it is
requisite to govern men by other passions, and animate them with a
spirit of avarice and industry, art and luxury. The camp is, in this
case, loaded with a superfluous retinue; but the provisions flow in
proportionately larger. The harmony of the whole is still supported,
and the natural bent of the mind being more complied with, individuals,
as well as the public, find their account in the observance of those

The same method of reasoning will let us see the advantage of foreign
commerce, in augmenting the power of the state, as well as the riches
and happiness of the subjects. It increases the stock of labour in
the nation, and the sovereign may convert what share of it he finds
necessary to the service of the public. Foreign trade, by its imports,
furnishes materials for new manufactures; and by its exports, it
produces labour in particular commodities which could not be consumed
at home. In short, a kingdom that has a large import and export
must abound more with industry, and that employed upon delicacies
and luxuries, than a kingdom which rests contented with its native
commodities. It is, therefore, more powerful, as well as richer and
happier. The individuals reap the benefit of these commodities, so far
as they gratify the senses and appetites. And the public is also a
gainer, while a greater stock of labour is, by this means, stored up
against any public exigency; that is, a greater number of laborious
men are maintained, who may be diverted to the public service
without robbing any one of the necessaries or even the chief
conveniences of life.

If we consult history, we shall find that in most nations foreign trade
has preceded any refinement in home manufactures, and given birth to
domestic luxury. The temptation is stronger to make use of foreign
commodities, which are ready for use, and which are entirely new to
us, than to make improvements on any domestic commodity, which always
advance by slow degrees, and never affect us by their novelty. The
profit is also very great in exporting what is superfluous at home,
and what bears no price, to foreign nations, whose soil or climate is
not favourable to that commodity. Thus men become acquainted with the
pleasures of luxury and the profits of commerce; and their delicacy
and industry, being once awakened, carry them to farther improvements
in every branch of domestic as well as foreign trade. And this perhaps
is the chief advantage which arises from a commerce with strangers.
It rouses men from their indolence; and presenting the gayer and more
opulent part of the nation with objects of luxury, which they never
before dreamed of, raises in them a desire of a more splendid way of
life than what their ancestors enjoyed; and at the same time the few
merchants who possess the secret of this importation and exportation
make exorbitant profits, and becoming rivals in wealth to the ancient
nobility, tempt other adventurers to become their rivals in commerce.
Imitation soon diffuses all those arts; while domestic manufacturers
emulate the foreign in their improvements, and work up every home
commodity to the utmost perfection of which it is susceptible. Their
own steel and iron, in such laborious hands, becomes equal to the gold
and rubies of the Indies.

When the affairs of the society are once brought to this situation, a
nation may lose most of its foreign trade, and yet continue a great and
powerful people. If strangers will not take any particular commodity
of ours, we must cease to labour in it. The same hands will turn
themselves towards some refinement in other commodities which may be
wanted at home. And there must always be materials for them to
work upon; till every person in the state, who possesses riches, enjoys
as great plenty of home commodities, and those in as great perfection,
as he desires; which can never possibly happen. China is represented as
one of the most flourishing empires in the world, though it has very
little commerce beyond its own territories.

It will not, I hope, be considered as a superfluous digression, if I
here observe, that as the multitude of mechanical arts is advantageous,
so is the great number of persons to whose share the productions of
these arts fall. A too great disproportion among the citizens weakens
any state. Every person, if possible, ought to enjoy the fruits of his
labour, in a full possession of all the necessaries, and many of the
conveniences of life. No one can doubt but such an equality is most
suitable to human nature, and diminishes much less from the happiness
of the rich than it adds to that of the poor. It also augments the
power of the state, and makes any extraordinary taxes or impositions
be paid with much more cheerfulness. Where the riches are engrossed by
a few, these must contribute very largely to the supplying the public
necessities. But when the riches are dispersed among multitudes, the
burden feels light on every shoulder, and the taxes make not a very
sensible difference on any one’s way of living.

Add to this, that where the riches are in few hands these must enjoy
all the power, and will readily conspire to lay the whole burden on
the poor, and oppress them still farther, to the discouragement of all

In this circumstance consists the great advantage of England above
any nation at present in the world, or that appears in the records of
story. It is true, the English feel some disadvantages in foreign trade
by the high price of labour, which is in part the effect of the riches
of their artisans, as well as of the plenty of money; but as foreign
trade is not the most material circumstance, it is not to be put in
competition with the happiness of so many millions. And if there were
no more to endear to them that free government under which they
live, this alone were sufficient. The poverty of the common people is
a natural, if not an infallible effect of absolute monarchy; though I
doubt whether it be always true, on the other hand, that their riches
are an infallible result of liberty. Liberty must be attended with
particular accidents, and a certain turn of thinking, in order to
produce that effect. Lord Bacon, accounting for the great advantages
obtained by the English in their wars with France, ascribes them
chiefly to the superior ease and plenty of the common people amongst
the former; yet the governments of the two kingdoms were, at that time,
pretty much alike. Where the labourers and artisans are accustomed to
work for low wages, and to retain but a small part of the fruits of
their labour, it is difficult for them, even in a free government,
to better their condition, or conspire among themselves to heighten
their wages. But even where they are accustomed to a more plentiful
way of life, it is easy for the rich, in a despotic government, to
conspire against them, and throw the whole burden of the taxes on their

It may seem an odd position, that the poverty of the common people in
France, Italy, and Spain is, in some measure, owing to the superior
riches of the soil and happiness of the climate; and yet there want
not many reasons to justify this paradox. In such a fine mould or soil
as that of those more southern regions, agriculture is an easy art;
and one man, with a couple of sorry horses, will be able, in a season,
to cultivate as much land as will pay a pretty considerable rent to
the proprietor. All the art, which the farmer knows, is to leave his
ground fallow for a year, so soon as it is exhausted; and the warmth
of the sun alone and temperature of the climate enrich it, and restore
its fertility. Such poor peasants, therefore, require only a simple
maintenance for their labour. They have no stock nor riches, which
claim more; and at the same time, they are for ever dependent on their
landlord, who gives no leases, nor fears that his land will be spoiled
by the ill methods of cultivation. In England, the land is rich, but
coarse; must be cultivated at a great expense; and produces
slender crops, when not carefully managed, and by a method which
gives not the full profit but in a course of several years. A farmer,
therefore, in England must have a considerable stock and a long lease;
which beget proportional profits. The fine vineyards of Champagne and
Burgundy, that oft yield to the landlord above five pounds per acre,
are cultivated by peasants who have scarce bread; and the reason is,
that such peasants need no stock but their own limbs, with instruments
of husbandry which they can buy for twenty shillings. The farmers are
commonly in some better circumstances in those countries; but the
graziers are most at their ease of all those who cultivate the land.
The reason is still the same. Men must have profits proportionable to
their expense and hazard. Where so considerable a number of labouring
poor as the peasants and farmers are in very low circumstances, all
the rest must partake of their poverty whether the government of that
nation be monarchical or republican.

We may form a similar remark with regard to the general history of
mankind. What is the reason why no people living between the tropics
could ever yet attain to any art or civility, or reach even any police
in their government, and any military discipline; while few nations
in the temperate climates have been altogether deprived of these
advantages? It is probable that one cause of this phenomenon is the
warmth and equality of weather in the torrid zone, which render clothes
and houses less requisite for the inhabitants, and thereby remove, in
part, that necessity which is the great spur to industry and invention.
_Curis acuens mortalia corda._ Not to mention that the fewer goods
or possessions of this kind any people enjoy, the fewer quarrels are
likely to arise amongst them, and the less necessity will there be for
a settled police or regular authority to protect and defend them from
foreign enemies, or from each other.


[7] Monsieur Melon, in his political essay on commerce, asserts that
even at present, if you divide France into twenty parts, sixteen are
labourers or peasants, two only artisans, one belonging to the law,
church, and military, and one merchants, financiers, and bourgeois.
This calculation is certainly very erroneous. In France, England, and
indeed most parts of Europe, half of the inhabitants live in cities;
and even of those who live in the country, a very great number are
artisans, perhaps above a third.

[8] _Diod. Sic._, lib. 2. This account, I own, is somewhat suspicious,
not to say worse, chiefly because this army was not composed of
citizens, but of mercenary forces.

[9] The more ancient Romans lived in perpetual war with all their
neighbours; and in old Latin the term “hostis” expressed both a
stranger and an enemy. This is remarked by Cicero; but by him is
ascribed to the humanity of his ancestors, who softened, as much as
possible, the denomination of an enemy by calling him by the same
appellation which signified a stranger. (_De Off._, lib. 2.) It is,
however, much more probable, from the manners of the times, that the
ferocity of those people was so great as to make them regard all
strangers as enemies, and call them by the same name. It is not,
besides, consistent with the most common maxims of policy or of nature
that any state should regard its public enemies with a friendly eye, or
preserve any such sentiments for them as the Roman orator would ascribe
to his ancestors. Not to mention that the early Romans really exercised
piracy, as we learn from their first treaties with Carthage, preserved
by Polybius, lib. 3, and consequently, like the Sallee and Algerine
rovers, were actually at war with most nations, and a stranger and an
enemy were with them almost synonymous.


Luxury is a word of a very uncertain signification, and may be taken
in a good as well as in a bad sense. In general, it means great
refinement in the gratification of the senses, and any degree of it
may be innocent or blameable, according to the age, or country, or
condition of the person. The bounds between the virtue and the vice
cannot here be fixed exactly, more than in other moral subjects. To
imagine that the gratifying any of the senses, or the indulging any
delicacy in meats, drinks, or apparel, is in itself a vice, can never
enter into a head that is not disordered by the frenzies of enthusiasm.
I have, indeed, heard of a monk abroad who, because the windows of
his cell opened upon a very noble prospect, made a covenant with his
eyes never to turn that way, or receive so sensual a gratification.
And such is the crime of drinking champagne or burgundy, preferably to
small beer or porter. These indulgences are only vices when they are
pursued at the expense of some virtue, as liberality or charity; in
like manner as they are follies when for them a man ruins his fortune,
and reduces himself to want and beggary. Where they entrench upon no
virtue, but leave ample subject whence to provide for friends, family,
and every proper object of generosity or compassion, they are entirely
innocent, and have in every age been acknowledged such by almost all
moralists. To be entirely occupied with the luxury of the table, for
instance, without any relish for the pleasures of ambition, study, or
conversation, is a mark of gross stupidity, and is incompatible with
any vigour of temper or genius. To confine one’s expense entirely
to such a gratification, without regard to friends or family, is an
indication of a heart entirely devoid of humanity or benevolence. But
if a man reserve time sufficient for all laudable pursuits, and money
sufficient for all generous purposes, he is free from every
shadow of blame or reproach.

Since luxury may be considered either as innocent or blameable, one may
be surprised at those preposterous opinions which have been entertained
concerning it; while men of libertine principles bestow praises even on
vicious luxury, and represent it as highly advantageous to society; and
on the other hand, men of severe morals blame even the most innocent
luxury, and regard it as the source of all the corruptions, disorders,
and factions incident to civil government. We shall here endeavour
to correct both these extremes, by proving, first, that the ages of
refinement are both the happiest and most virtuous; secondly, that
wherever luxury ceases to be innocent, it also ceases to be beneficial;
and when carried a degree too far, is a quality pernicious, though
perhaps not the most pernicious, to political society.

To prove the first point, we need but consider the effects of
refinement both on private and on public life. Human happiness,
according to the most received notions, seems to consist in three
ingredients: action, pleasure, and indolence; and though these
ingredients ought to be mixed in different proportions, according
to the particular dispositions of the person, yet no one ingredient
can be entirely wanting without destroying, in some measure, the
relish of the whole composition. Indolence or repose, indeed, seems
not of itself to contribute much to our enjoyment; but, like sleep,
is requisite as an indulgence to the weakness of human nature, which
cannot support an uninterrupted course of business or pleasure. That
quick march of the spirits which takes a man from himself, and chiefly
gives satisfaction, does in the end exhaust the mind, and requires
some intervals of repose, which, though agreeable for a moment, yet,
if prolonged, beget a languor and lethargy that destroy all enjoyment.
Education, custom, and example have a mighty influence in turning the
mind to any of these pursuits; and it must be owned, that where they
promote a relish for action and pleasure, they are so far favourable
to human happiness. In times when industry and arts flourish,
men are kept in perpetual occupation, and enjoy, as their reward, the
occupation itself, as well as those pleasures which are the fruits of
their labour. The mind acquires new vigour; enlarges its powers and
faculties; and by an assiduity in honest industry, both satisfies its
natural appetites and prevents the growth of unnatural ones, which
commonly spring up when nourished with ease and idleness. Banish those
arts from society, you deprive men both of action and of pleasure; and
leaving nothing but indolence in their place, you even destroy the
relish of indolence, which never is agreeable but when it succeeds to
labour, and recruits the spirits, exhausted by too much application and

Another advantage of industry and of refinements in the mechanical arts
is that they commonly produce some refinements in the liberal; nor can
the one be carried to perfection without being accompanied, in some
degree, with the other. The same age which produces great philosophers
and politicians, renowned generals and poets, usually abounds with
skilful weavers and ship-carpenters. We cannot reasonably expect that a
piece of woollen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation which
is ignorant of astronomy, or where ethics are neglected. The spirit of
the age affects all the arts; and the minds of men, being once roused
from their lethargy and put into a fermentation, turn themselves on
all sides, and carry improvements into every art and science. Profound
ignorance is totally banished, and men enjoy the privilege of rational
creatures, to think as well as to act, to cultivate the pleasures of
the mind as well as those of the body.

The more these refined arts advance, the more sociable do men become;
nor is it possible that, when enriched with science and possessed of a
fund of conversation, they should be contented to remain in solitude,
or live with their fellow-citizens in that distant manner which is
peculiar to ignorant and barbarous nations. They flock into cities;
love to receive and communicate knowledge; to show their wit
or their breeding; their taste in conversation or living, in clothes
or furniture. Curiosity allures the wise; vanity the foolish; and
pleasure both. Particular clubs and societies are everywhere formed,
both sexes meet in an easy and sociable manner, and the tempers of
men, as well as their behaviour, refine apace. So that, besides the
improvements which they receive from knowledge and the liberal arts, it
is impossible but they must feel an increase of humanity from the very
habit of conversing together and contributing to each other’s pleasure
and entertainment. Thus industry, knowledge, and humanity are linked
together by an indissoluble chain, and are found, from experience as
well as reason, to be peculiar to the more polished, and, what are
commonly denominated, the more luxurious ages.

Nor are these advantages attended with disadvantages which bear
any proportion to them. The more men refine upon pleasure the less
will they indulge in excesses of any kind, because nothing is more
destructive to true pleasure than such excesses. One may safely affirm
that the Tartars are oftener guilty of beastly gluttony when they
feast on their dead horses than European courtiers with all their
refinements of cookery. And if libertine love, or even infidelity to
the marriage-bed, be more frequent in polite ages, when it is often
regarded only as a piece of gallantry, drunkenness, on the other hand,
is much less common—a vice more odious and more pernicious both to
mind and body. And in this matter I would appeal not only to an Ovid
or a Petronius, but to a Seneca or a Cato. We know that Cæsar, during
Catiline’s conspiracy, being necessitated to put into Cato’s hands a
_billet-doux_ which discovered an intrigue with Servilia, Cato’s own
sister, that stern philosopher threw it back to him with indignation,
and, in the bitterness of his wrath, gave him the appellation of
drunkard, as a term more opprobrious than that with which he could more
justly have reproached him.

But industry, knowledge, and humanity are not advantageous in private
life alone; they diffuse their beneficial influence on the public,
and render the government as great and flourishing as they make
individuals happy and prosperous. The increase and consumption of all
the commodities which serve to the ornament and pleasure of life are
advantageous to society, because at the same time that they multiply
those innocent gratifications to individuals, they are a kind of
storehouse of labour, which, in the exigencies of state, may be turned
to the public service. In a nation where there is no demand for such
superfluities men sink into indolence, lose all the enjoyment of life,
and are useless to the public, which cannot maintain nor support its
fleets and armies from the industries of such slothful members.

The bounds of all the European kingdoms are at present pretty near the
same they were two hundred years ago; but what a difference is there
in the power and grandeur of those kingdoms! Which can be ascribed to
nothing but the increase of art and industry. When Charles VIII. of
France invaded Italy, he carried with him about 20,000 men; and yet
this armament so exhausted the nation, as we learn from Guicciardin,
that for some years it was not able to make so great an effort.
The late King of France, in time of war, kept in pay above 400,000
men,​[10] though from Mazarin’s death to his own he was engaged in a
course of wars that lasted near thirty years.

This industry is much promoted by the knowledge inseparable from the
ages of art and refinement; as, on the other hand, this knowledge
enables the public to make the best advantage of the industry of its
subjects. Laws, order, police, discipline—these can never be carried
to any degree of perfection before human reason has refined itself by
exercise, and by an application to the more vulgar arts, at least, of
commerce and manufactures. Can we expect that a government will be
well modelled by a people who know not how to make a spinning-wheel,
or to employ a loom to advantage? Not to mention that all ignorant
ages are infested with superstition, which throws the government
off its bias, and disturbs men in the pursuit of their interest and

Knowledge in the arts of government naturally begets mildness and
moderation, by instructing men in the advantages of humane maxims above
rigour and severity, which drive subjects into rebellion, and render
the return to submission impracticable, by cutting off all hopes of
pardon. When the tempers of men are softened as well as their knowledge
improved, this humanity appears still more conspicuous, and is the
chief characteristic which distinguishes a civilized age from times of
barbarity and ignorance. Factions are then less inveterate, revolutions
less tragical, authority less severe, and seditions less frequent. Even
foreign wars abate of their cruelty; and after the field of battle,
where honour and interest steel men against compassion as well as fear,
the combatants divest themselves of the brute, and resume the man.

Nor need we fear that men, by losing their ferocity, will lose their
martial spirit, or become less undaunted and vigorous in defence
of their country or their liberty. The arts have no such effect in
enervating either the mind or body. On the contrary, industry, their
inseparable attendant, adds new force to both. And if anger, which is
said to be the whetstone of courage, loses somewhat of its asperity
by politeness and refinement, a sense of honour, which is a stronger,
more constant, and more governable principle, acquires fresh vigour
by that elevation of genius which arises from knowledge and a good
education. Add to this that courage can neither have any duration nor
be of any use when not accompanied with discipline and martial skill,
which are seldom found among a barbarous people. The ancients remarked
that Datames was the only barbarian that ever knew the art of war.
And Pyrrhus, seeing the Romans marshal their army with some art and
skill, said with surprise, “These barbarians have nothing barbarous
in their discipline!” It is observable that as the old Romans, by
applying themselves solely to war, were the only uncivilized
people that ever possessed military discipline, so the Italians are the
only civilized people among Europeans that ever wanted courage and a
martial spirit. Those who would ascribe this effeminacy of the Italians
to their luxury or politeness, or application to the arts, need but
consider the French and English, whose bravery is as incontestable as
their love for luxury and their assiduity in commerce. The Italian
historians give us a more satisfactory reason for this degeneracy of
their countrymen. They show us how the sword was dropped at once by
all the Italian sovereigns; while the Venetian aristocracy was jealous
of its subjects, the Florentine democracy applied itself entirely to
commerce; Rome was governed by priests, and Naples by women. War then
became the business of soldiers of fortune, who spared one another,
and, to the astonishment of the world, could engage a whole day in what
they called a battle, and return at night to their camp without the
least bloodshed.

What has chiefly induced severe moralists to declaim against refinement
in the arts is the example of ancient Rome, which, joining to its
poverty and rusticity, virtue and public spirit, rose to such a
surprising height of grandeur and liberty; but having learned from
its conquered provinces the Asiatic luxury, fell into every kind of
corruption, whence arose sedition and civil wars, attended at last
with the total loss of liberty. All the Latin classics, whom we peruse
in our infancy, are full of these sentiments, and universally ascribe
the ruin of their state to the arts and riches imported from the East:
insomuch that Sallust represents a taste for painting as a vice no less
than lewdness and drinking. And so popular were these sentiments during
the latter ages of the republic, that this author abounds in praises of
the old rigid Roman virtue, though himself the most egregious instance
of modern luxury and corruption; speaks contemptuously of the Grecian
eloquence, though the most eloquent writer in the world; nay, employs
preposterous digressions and declamations to this purpose, though a
model of taste and correctness.

But it would be easy to prove that these writers mistook the cause of
the disorders in the Roman state, and ascribed to luxury and the arts
what really proceeded from an ill-modelled government and the unlimited
extent of conquests. Refinement on the pleasures and conveniences
of life has no natural tendency to beget venality and corruption.
The value which all men put upon any particular pleasure depends on
comparison and experience; nor is a porter less greedy of money, which
he spends on bacon and brandy, than a courtier, who purchases champagne
and ortolans. Riches are valuable at all times, and to all men, because
they always purchase pleasures such as men are accustomed to and
desire; nor can anything restrain or regulate the love of money but a
sense of honour and virtue, which, if it be not nearly equal at all
times, will naturally abound most in ages of knowledge and refinement.

Of all European kingdoms, Poland seems the most defective in the arts
of war, as well as peace, mechanical as well as liberal; and yet it is
there that venality and corruption do most prevail. The nobles seem to
have preserved their crown elective for no other purpose but regularly
to sell it to the highest bidder; this is almost the only species of
commerce with which that people are acquainted.

The liberties of England, so far from decaying since the improvements
in the arts, have never flourished so much as during that period. And
though corruption may seem to increase of late years, this is chiefly
to be ascribed to our established liberty, when our princes have found
the impossibility of governing without parliaments, or of terrifying
parliaments by the phantom of prerogative. Not to mention that this
corruption or venality prevails infinitely more among the electors than
the elected, and therefore cannot justly be ascribed to any refinements
in luxury.

If we consider the matter in a proper light, we shall find that
improvements in the arts are rather favourable to liberty, and have a
natural tendency to preserve, if not produce a free government.
In rude, unpolished nations, where the arts are neglected, all the
labour is bestowed on the cultivation of the ground; and the whole
society is divided into two classes—proprietors of land and their
vassals or tenants. The latter are necessarily dependent, and fitted
for slavery and subjection; especially where they possess no riches,
and are not valued for their knowledge in agriculture, as must always
be the case where the arts are neglected. The former naturally erect
themselves into petty tyrants, and must either submit to an absolute
master for the sake of peace and order, or if they will preserve
their independency, like the ancient barons, they must fall into
feuds and contests among themselves, and throw the whole society into
such confusion as is perhaps worse than the most despotic government.
But where luxury nourishes commerce and industry, the peasants, by a
proper cultivation of the land, become rich and independent; while
the tradesmen and merchants acquire a share of the property, and draw
authority and consideration to that middling rank of men, who are the
best and firmest basis of public liberty. These submit not to slavery,
like the poor peasants, from poverty and meanness of spirit; and having
no hopes of tyrannizing over others, like the barons, they are not
tempted, for the sake of that gratification, to submit to the tyranny
of their sovereign. They covet equal laws, which may secure their
property, and preserve them from monarchical as well as aristocratical

The House of Commons is the support of our popular government, and
all the world acknowledges that it owed its chief influence and
consideration to the increase of commerce, which threw such a balance
of property into the hands of the commons. How inconsistent then is it
to blame so violently a refinement in the arts, and to represent it as
the bane of liberty and public spirit!

To declaim against present times, and magnify the virtue of remote
ancestors, is a propensity almost inherent in human nature: and as
the sentiments and opinions of civilized ages alone are transmitted
to posterity, hence it is that we meet with so many severe judgments
pronounced against luxury, and even science; and hence it is that at
present we give so ready an assent to them. But the fallacy is easily
perceived from comparing different nations that are contemporaries,
where we both judge more impartially and can better set in opposition
those manners with which we are sufficiently acquainted. Treachery
and cruelty, the most pernicious and most odious of all vices, seem
peculiar to uncivilized ages; and by the refined Greeks and Romans were
ascribed to all the barbarous nations which surrounded them. They might
justly, therefore, have presumed that their own ancestors, so highly
celebrated, possessed no greater virtue, and were as much inferior to
their posterity in honour and humanity as in taste and science. An
ancient Frank or Saxon may be highly extolled; but I believe every man
would think his life or fortune much less secure in the hands of a Moor
or Tartar than in those of a French or English gentleman, the rank of
men the most civilized in the most civilized nations.

We come now to the second position which we proposed to illustrate—viz.,
that as innocent luxury, or a refinement in the arts and conveniences
of life, is advantageous to the public, so, wherever luxury ceases to
be innocent, it also ceases to be beneficial; and when carried a degree
farther, begins to be a quality pernicious, though perhaps not the most
pernicious, to political society.

Let us consider what we call vicious luxury. No gratification,
however sensual, can of itself be esteemed vicious. A gratification
is only vicious when it engrosses all a man’s expense, and leaves no
ability for such acts of duty and generosity as are required by his
situation and fortune. Suppose that he correct the vice, and employ
part of his expense in the education of his children, in the support
of his friends, and in relieving the poor, would any prejudice result
to society? On the contrary, the same consumption would arise, and
that labour which at present is employed only in producing a slender
gratification to one man, would relieve the necessitous, and bestow
satisfaction on hundreds. The same care and toil which raise a dish of
peas at Christmas would give bread to a whole family during six months.
To say that, without a vicious luxury, the labour would not have been
employed at all, is only to say that there is some other defect in
human nature, such as indolence, selfishness, inattention to others,
for which luxury in some measure provides a remedy, as one poison may
be an antidote to another. But virtue, like wholesome food, is better
than poisons, however corrected.

Suppose the same number of men that are at present in Britain, with
the same soil and climate: I ask, is it not possible for them to be
happier, by the most perfect way of life which can be imagined, and
by the greatest reformation which Omnipotence itself could work in
their temper and disposition? To assert that they cannot appears
evidently ridiculous. As the land is able to maintain more than all its
inhabitants, they could never, in such a Utopian state, feel any other
ills than those which arise from bodily sickness; and these are not the
half of human miseries. All other ills spring from some vice, either
in ourselves or others; and even many of our diseases proceed from the
same origin. Remove the vices, and the ills follow. You must only take
care to remove all the vices. If you remove part, you may render the
matter worse. By banishing vicious luxury, without curing sloth and an
indifference to others, you only diminish industry in the state, and
add nothing to men’s charity or their generosity. Let us, therefore,
rest contented with asserting that two opposite vices in a state may
be more advantageous than either of them alone; but let us never
pronounce vice in itself advantageous. Is it not very inconsistent for
an author to assert in one page that moral distinctions are inventions
of politicians for public interest, and in the next page maintain that
vice is advantageous to the public?​[11] And indeed it seems, upon any
system of morality, little less than a contradiction in terms to talk
of a vice which is in general beneficial to society.

Prodigality is not to be confounded with a refinement in the arts. It
even appears that that vice is much less frequent in the cultivated
ages. Industry and gain beget frugality, among the lower and middle
ranks of men, and in all the busy professions. Men of high rank,
indeed, it may be pretended, are more allured by the pleasures, which
become more frequent. But idleness is the great source of prodigality
at all times, and there are pleasures and vanities in every age, which
allure men equally when they are unacquainted with better enjoyments.
Not to mention that the high interest paid in rude times quickly
consumes the fortunes of the landed gentry, and multiplies their

I thought this reasoning necessary in order to give some light to a
philosophical question which has been much disputed in Britain. I call
it a philosophical question, not a political one; for whatever may
be the consequence of such a miraculous transformation of mankind as
would endow them with every species of virtue and free them from every
species of vice, this concerns not the magistrate, who aims only at
possibilities. He cannot cure every vice by substituting a virtue in
its place. Very often he can only cure one vice by another, and in that
case he ought to prefer what is least pernicious to society. Luxury,
when excessive, is the source of many ills; but it is in general
preferable to sloth and idleness, which would commonly succeed in its
place, and are more pernicious both to private persons and to the
public. When sloth reigns, a mean, uncultivated way of life prevails
amongst individuals, without society, without enjoyment. And if the
sovereign, in such a situation, demands the service of his subjects,
the labour of the state suffices only to furnish the necessaries of
life to the labourers, and can afford nothing to those who are employed
in the public service.


[10] The inscription on the Place de Vendôme says 440,000.

[11] _Fable of the Bees._


Money is not, properly speaking, one of the subjects of commerce,
but only the instrument which men have agreed upon to facilitate
the exchange of one commodity for another. It is none of the wheels
of trade; it is the oil which renders the motion of the wheels more
smooth and easy. If we consider any one kingdom by itself, it is
evident that the greater or less plenty of money is of no consequence,
since the prices of commodities are always proportioned to the plenty
of money, and a crown in Henry VII.’s time served the same purpose
as a pound does at present. It is only the public which draws any
advantage from the greater plenty of money, and that only in its wars
and negotiations with foreign states. And this is the reason why all
rich and trading countries, from Carthage to Britain and Holland,
have employed mercenary troops, which they hired from their poorer
neighbours. Were they to make use of their native subjects, they would
find less advantage from their superior riches, and from their great
plenty of gold and silver, since the pay of all their servants must
rise in proportion to the public opulence. Our small army in Britain of
20,000 men is maintained at as great expense as a French army thrice
as numerous. The English fleet, during the late war, required as much
money to support it as all the Roman legions which kept the whole world
in subjection during the time of the emperors.​[12]

The greater number of people and their greater industry are serviceable
in all cases—at home and abroad, in private and in public. But the
greater plenty of money is very limited in its use, and may even
sometimes be a loss to a nation in its commerce with foreigners.

There seems to be a happy concurrence of causes in human affairs which
checks the growth of trade and riches, and hinders them from being
confined entirely to one people, as might naturally at first be dreaded
from the advantages of an established commerce. Where one nation has
got the start of another in trade it is very difficult for the latter
to regain the ground it has lost, because of the superior industry and
skill of the former, and the greater stocks of which its merchants are
possessed, and which enable them to trade for so much smaller profits.
But these advantages are compensated, in some measure, by the low price
of labour in every nation which has not an extensive commerce, and
does not very much abound in gold and silver. Manufactures, therefore,
gradually shift their places, leaving those countries and provinces
which they have already enriched, and flying to others, whither they
are allured by the cheapness of provisions and labour, till they have
enriched these also and are again banished by the same causes. And, in
general, we may observe that the dearness of everything, from plenty
of money, is a disadvantage which attends an established commerce, and
sets bounds to it in every country by enabling the poorer states to
under-sell the richer in all foreign markets.

This has made me entertain a great doubt concerning the benefit of
banks and paper-credit, which are so generally esteemed advantageous
to every nation. That provisions and labour should become dear by the
increase of trade and money is, in many respects, an inconvenience;
but an inconvenience that is unavoidable, and the effect of that
public wealth and prosperity which are the end of all our wishes. It
is compensated by the advantages which we reap from the possession of
these precious metals, and the weight which they give the nation in
all foreign wars and negotiations. But there appears no reason for
increasing that inconvenience by a counterfeit money, which foreigners
will not accept in any payment, and which any great disorder in the
state will reduce to nothing. There are, it is true, many people in
every rich state who, having large sums of money, would prefer paper
with good security, as being of more easy transport and more safe
custody. If the public provide not a bank, private bankers will take
advantage of this circumstance; as the goldsmiths formerly did in
London, or as the bankers do at present in Dublin; and therefore it
is better, it may be thought, that a public company should enjoy the
benefit of the paper-credit which always will have place in every
opulent kingdom. But to endeavour artificially to increase such a
credit can never be the interest of any trading nation; but must lay
them under disadvantages, by increasing money beyond its natural
proportion to labour and commodities, and thereby heightening their
price to the merchant and manufacturer. And in this view, it must be
allowed that no bank could be more advantageous than such a one as
locked up all the money it received,​[13] and never augmented the
circulating coin, as is usual, by returning part of its treasure into
commerce. A public bank by this expedient might cut off much of the
dealings of private bankers and money-jobbers; and though the state
bore the charge of salaries to the directors and tellers of this
bank (for, according to the preceding supposition, it would have no
profit from its dealings), the national advantage, resulting from the
low price of labour and the destruction of paper-credit, would be a
sufficient compensation. Not to mention that so large a sum, lying
ready at command, would be a great convenience in times of public
danger and distress; and what part of it was used might be replaced at
leisure, when peace and tranquillity were restored to the nation.

But of this subject of paper-credit we shall treat more largely
hereafter, and I shall finish this essay on money by proposing and
explaining two observations, which may perhaps serve to employ the
thoughts of our speculative politicians, for to these only I all along
address myself. It is enough that I submit to the ridicule sometimes in
this age attached to the character of a philosopher, without adding to
it that which belongs to a projector.

It was a shrewd observation of Anacharsis the Scythian, who had never
seen money in his own country, that gold and silver seemed to him of
no use to the Greeks but to assist them in numeration and arithmetic.
It is indeed evident that money is nothing but the representation
of labour and commodities, and serves only as a method of rating or
estimating them. Where coin is in greater plenty, as a greater quantity
of it is required to represent the same quantity of goods, it can have
no effect, either good or bad, taking a nation within itself; no more
than it would make any alteration on a merchant’s books if, instead
of the Arabian method of notation, which requires few characters,
he should make use of the Roman, which requires a great many. Nay,
the greater quantity of money, like the Roman characters, is rather
inconvenient, and requires greater trouble both to keep and transport
it. But notwithstanding this conclusion, which must be allowed just, it
is certain that since the discovery of mines in America industry has
increased in all the nations of Europe, except in the possessors of
those mines; and this may justly be ascribed, amongst other reasons,
to the increase of gold and silver. Accordingly, we find that in every
kingdom into which money begins to flow in greater abundance than
formerly everything takes a new face; labour and industry gain life,
the merchant becomes more enterprising, the manufacturer more diligent
and skilful, and even the farmer follows his plough with greater
alacrity and attention. This is not easily to be accounted for, if
we consider only the influence which a greater abundance of coin has
in the kingdom itself, by heightening the price of commodities, and
obliging every one to pay a greater number of these little yellow or
white pieces for everything he purchases. And as to foreign trade,
it appears that great plenty of money is rather disadvantageous, by
raising the price of every kind of labour.

To account, then, for this phenomenon, we must consider that though the
high price of commodities be a necessary consequence of the increase
of gold and silver, yet it follows not immediately upon that increase;
but some time is required before the money circulates through the
whole state, and makes its effects be felt on all ranks of people. At
first, no alteration is perceived; by degrees the price rises, first
of one commodity then of another, till the whole at last reaches
a just proportion with the new quantity of specie which is in the
kingdom. In my opinion, it is only in this interval or intermediate
situation, between the acquisition of money and rise of prices, that
the increasing quantity of gold and silver is favourable to industry.
When any quantity of money is imported into a nation, it is not at
first dispersed into many hands, but is confined to the coffers of a
few persons, who immediately seek to employ it to the best advantage.
Here are a set of manufacturers or merchants, we shall suppose, who
have received returns of gold and silver for goods which they sent to
Cadiz. They are thereby enabled to employ more workmen than formerly,
who never dream of demanding higher wages, but are glad of employment
from such good paymasters. If workmen become scarce, the manufacturer
gives higher wages, but at first requires an increase of labour;
and this is willingly submitted to by the artisan, who can now eat
and drink better, to compensate his additional toil and fatigue. He
carries his money to market, where he finds everything at the same
price as formerly, but returns with greater quantity and of better
kinds, for the use of his family. The farmer and gardener, finding
that all commodities are taken off, apply themselves with alacrity
to the raising more; and at the same time can afford to take better
and more clothes from their tradesmen, whose price is the same as
formerly, and their industry only whetted by so much new gain. It is
easy to trace the money in its progress through the whole commonwealth;
where we shall find that it must first quicken the diligence of every
individual, before it increase the price of labour.

And that the specie may increase to a considerable pitch before it have
this latter effect appears, amongst other instances, from the frequent
operations of the French king on the money; where it was always found
that the augmenting the numerary value did not produce a proportional
rise of the prices, at least for some time. In the last year of Louis
XIV. money was raised three-sevenths, but prices augmented only one.
Corn in France is now sold at the same price, or for the same number
of livres it was in 1683; though silver was then at thirty livres the
mark, and is now at fifty;​[14] not to mention the great addition of
gold and silver which may have come into that kingdom since the former

From the whole of this reasoning we may conclude that it is of no
manner of consequence, with regard to the domestic happiness of a
state, whether money be in a greater or less quantity. The good
policy of the magistrate consists only in keeping it, if possible,
still increasing; because, by that means, he keeps alive a spirit of
industry in the nation, and increases the stock of labour, in which
consists all real power and riches. A nation whose money decreases is
actually, at that time, much weaker and more miserable than another
nation which possesses no more money but is on the increasing hand.
This will be easily accounted for if we consider that the alterations
in the quantity of money, either on the one side or the other, are not
immediately attended with proportionable alterations in the prices of
commodities. There is always an interval before matters be adjusted to
their new situation, and this interval is as pernicious to industry
when gold and silver are diminishing as it is advantageous when these
metals are increasing. The workman has not the same employment from the
manufacturer and merchant, though he pays the same price for everything
in the market; the farmer cannot dispose of his corn and cattle, though
he must pay the same rent to his landlord. The poverty, and beggary,
and sloth which must ensue are easily foreseen.

The second observation which I proposed to make with regard to money
may be explained after the following manner. There are some kingdoms,
and many provinces in Europe (and all of them were once in the same
condition), where money is so scarce that the landlord can get
none at all from his tenants, but is obliged to take his rent in kind,
and either to consume it himself, or transport it to places where
he may find a market. In those countries the prince can levy few or
no taxes but in the same manner; and as he will receive very small
benefit from impositions so paid, it is evident that such a kingdom
has very little force even at home, and cannot maintain fleets and
armies to the same extent as if every part of it abounded in gold and
silver.​[15] There is surely a greater disproportion betwixt the force
of Germany at present and what it was three centuries ago, than there
is in its industry, people, and manufactures. The Austrian dominions
in the empire are in general well peopled and well cultivated, and are
of great extent, but have not a proportionable weight in the balance
of Europe; proceeding, as is commonly supposed, from the scarcity of
money. How do all these facts agree with that principle of reason, that
the quantity of gold and silver is in itself altogether indifferent?
According to that principle, wherever a sovereign has numbers of
subjects, and these have plenty of commodities, he should of course be
great and powerful, and they rich and happy, independent of the greater
or lesser abundance of the precious metals. These admit of divisions
and subdivisions to a great extent; and where they would become so
small as to be in danger of being lost, it is easy to mix them with a
baser metal, as is practised in some countries of Europe, and by that
means raise them to a bulk more sensible and convenient. They still
serve the same purposes of exchange, whatever their number may be, or
whatever colour they may be supposed to have.

To these difficulties, I answer that the effect here supposed to flow
from scarcity of money really arises from the manners and customs of
the inhabitants, and that we mistake, as is too usual, a collateral
effect for a cause. The contradiction is only apparent, but it
requires some thought and reflection to discover the principles by
which we can reconcile reason to experience.

It seems a maxim almost self-evident that the prices of everything
depend on the proportion between commodities and money, and that any
considerable alteration on either of these has the same effect, either
of heightening or lowering the prices. Increase the commodities, they
become cheaper; increase the money, they rise in their value. As, on
the other hand, a diminution of the former and that of the latter have
contrary tendencies.

It is also evident that the prices do not so much depend on the
absolute quantity of commodities and that of money which are in a
nation, as in that of the commodities which come or may come to market,
and of the money which circulates. If the coin be locked up in chests,
it is the same thing with regard to prices as if it were annihilated;
if the commodities be hoarded in granaries, a like effect follows. As
the money and commodities, in these cases, never meet, they cannot
affect each other. Were we, at any time, to form conjectures concerning
the price of provisions, the corn which the farmer must reserve for
the maintenance of himself and family ought never to enter into the
estimation. It is only the overplus, compared to the demand, that
determines the value.

To apply these principles, we must consider that in the first and more
uncultivated ages of any state, ere fancy has confounded her wants
with those of nature, men, contented with the productions of their
own fields, or with those rude preparations which they themselves can
work upon them, have little occasion for exchange, or at least for
money, which, by agreement, is the common measure of exchange. The wool
of the farmer’s own flock, spun in his own family, and wrought by a
neighbouring weaver, who receives his payment in corn or wool, suffices
for furniture or clothing. The carpenter, the smith, the mason, the
tailor are retained by wages of a like nature; and the landlord
himself, dwelling in the neighbourhood, is contented to receive his
rent in the commodities raised by the farmer. The greatest part
of these he consumes at home, in rustic hospitality; the rest, perhaps,
he disposes of for money to the neighbouring town, whence he draws the
few materials of his expense and luxury.

But after men begin to refine on all these enjoyments, and live not
always at home, nor are contented with what can be raised in their
neighbourhood, there is more exchange and commerce of all kinds, and
more money enters into that exchange. The tradesmen will not be paid in
corn, because they want something more than barley to eat. The farmer
goes beyond his own parish for the commodities he purchases, and cannot
always carry his commodities to the merchant who supplies him. The
landlord lives in the capital, or in a foreign country, and demands
his rent in gold and silver, which can easily be transported to him.
Great undertakers, and manufacturers, and merchants arise in every
commodity; and these can conveniently deal in nothing but in specie.
And consequently, in this situation of society, the coin enters into
many more contracts, and by that means is much more employed than in
the former.

The necessary effect is, that, provided the money does not increase in
the nation, everything must become much cheaper in times of industry
and refinement than in rude, uncultivated ages. It is the proportion
between the circulating money and the commodities in the market which
determines the prices. Goods that are consumed at home, or exchanged
with other goods in the neighbourhood, never come to market; they
affect not in the least the current specie; with regard to it they
are as if totally annihilated; and consequently this method of using
them sinks the proportion on the side of the commodities and increases
the prices. But after money enters into all contracts and sales, and
is everywhere the measure of exchange, the same national cash has a
much greater task to perform: all commodities are then in the market;
the sphere of circulation is enlarged; it is the same case as if that
individual sum were to serve a larger kingdom; and therefore, the
proportion being here lessened on the side of the money, everything
must become cheaper, and the prices gradually fall.

By the most exact computations that have been formed all over Europe,
after making allowance for the alteration in the numerary value or
the denomination, it is found that the prices of all things have only
risen three, or at most, four times, since the discovery of the West
Indies. But will any one assert that there is not much more than four
times the coin in Europe that was in the fifteenth century and the
centuries preceding it? The Spaniards and Portuguese from their mines,
the English, French, and Dutch by their African trade, and by their
interlopers in the West Indies, bring home six millions a year, of
which not above a third part goes to the East Indies. This sum alone
in ten years would probably double the ancient stock of money in
Europe. And no other satisfactory reason can be given why all prices
have not risen to a much more exorbitant height, except that derived
from a change of customs and manners. Besides that more commodities
are produced by additional industry, the same commodities come more
to market after men depart from their ancient simplicity of manners;
and though this increase has not been equal to that of money, it has,
however, been considerable, and has preserved the proportion between
coin and commodities nearer the ancient standard.

Were the question proposed, Which of these methods of living in the
people, the simple or refined, is most advantageous to the state or
public? I should, without much scruple, prefer the latter, in a view to
politics at least; and should produce this as an additional reason for
the encouragement of trade and manufactures.

When men live in the ancient simple manner, and supply all their
necessaries from domestic industry or from the neighbourhood, the
sovereign can levy no taxes in money from a considerable part of his
subjects; and if he will impose on them any burdens, he must take his
payment in commodities, with which alone they abound—a method
attended with such great and obvious inconveniences, that they need
not here be insisted on. All the money he can pretend to raise must be
from his principal cities, where alone it circulates; and these, it
is evident, cannot afford him so much as the whole state could, did
gold and silver circulate through the whole. But besides this obvious
diminution of the revenue, there is also another cause of the poverty
of the public in such a situation. Not only the sovereign receives less
money, but the same money goes not so far as in times of industry and
general commerce. Everything is dearer where the gold and silver are
supposed equal, and that because fewer commodities come to market, and
the whole coin bears a higher proportion to what is to be purchased by
it, whence alone the prices of everything are fixed and determined.

Here then we may learn the fallacy of the remark, often to be met with
in historians, and even in common conversation, that any particular
state is weak, though fertile, populous, and well cultivated, merely
because it wants money. It appears that the want of money can never
injure any state within itself: for men and commodities are the
real strength of any community. It is the simple manner of living
which here hurts the public, by confining the gold and silver to few
hands and preventing its universal diffusion and circulation. On the
contrary, industry and refinements of all kinds incorporate it with
the whole state, however small its quantity may be; they digest it
into every vein, so to speak, and make it enter into every transaction
and contract. No hand is entirely empty of it. And as the prices of
everything fall by that means, the sovereign has a double advantage: he
may draw money by his taxes from every part of the state, and what he
receives goes farther in every purchase and payment.

We may infer, from a comparison of prices, that money is not more
plentiful in China than it was in Europe three centuries ago; but what
immense power is that empire possessed of, if we may judge by the civil
and military list maintained by it! Polybius tells us that provisions
were so cheap in Italy during his time that in some places the
stated club​[16] at the inns was a _semis_ a head, little more than a
farthing! Yet the Roman power had even then subdued the whole known
world. About a century before that period the Carthaginian ambassador
said, by way of raillery, that no people lived more sociably amongst
themselves than the Romans, for that in every entertainment which, as
foreign ministers, they received they still observed the same plate
at every table. The absolute quantity of the precious metals is a
matter of great indifference. There are only two circumstances of any
importance—viz., their gradual increase and their thorough concoction
and circulation through the state; and the influence of both these
circumstances has been here explained.

In the following essay we shall see an instance of a like fallacy as
that above mentioned, where a collateral effect is taken for a cause,
and where a consequence is ascribed to the plenty of money; though it
be really owing to a change in the manners and customs of the people.


[12] A private soldier in the Roman infantry had a denarius a day,
somewhat less than eightpence. The Roman emperors had commonly 25
legions in pay, which, allowing 5000 men to a legion, makes 125,000.
(Tacitus, _Ann._ lib. 4.) It is true there were also auxiliaries to
the legions, but their numbers are uncertain as well as their pay. To
consider only the legionaries, the pay of the private men could not
exceed £1,600,000. Now, the Parliament in the last war commonly allowed
for the fleet £2,500,000. We have therefore £900,000 over for the
officers and other expenses of the Roman legions. There seem to have
been but few officers in the Roman armies in comparison of what are
employed in all our modern troops, except some Swiss corps. And these
officers had very small pay: a centurion, for instance, only double a
common soldier. And as the soldiers from their pay (Tacitus, _Ann._
lib. 1) bought their own clothes, arms, tents, and baggage, this must
also diminish considerably the other charges of the army. So little
expensive was that mighty Government, and so easy was its yoke over
the world. And, indeed, this is the more natural conclusion from the
foregoing calculations; for money, after the conquest of Egypt, seems
to have been nearly in as great plenty at Rome as it is at present in
the richest of the European kingdoms.

[13] This is the case with the bank of Amsterdam.

[14] These facts I give upon the authority of Monsieur du Tot in his
_Reflexions politiques_, an author of reputation; though I must confess
that the facts which he advances on other occasions are often so
suspicious as to make his authority less in this matter. However, the
general observation that the augmenting the money in France does not at
first proportionably augment the prices is certainly just.

By the by, this seems to be one of the best reasons which can be given
for a gradual and universal augmentation of the money, though it has
been entirely overlooked in all those volumes which have been written
on that question by Melon, Du Tot, and Paris de Verney. Were all our
money, for instance, recoined, and a penny’s worth of silver taken from
every shilling, the new shilling would probably purchase everything
that could have been bought by the old; the prices of everything
would thereby be insensibly diminished; foreign trade enlivened; and
domestic industry, by the circulation of a greater number of pounds and
shillings, would receive some increase and encouragement. In executing
such a project, it would be better to make the new shilling pass for
twenty-four half-pence, in order to preserve the illusion, and make it
be taken for the same. And as a recoinage of our silver begins to be
requisite, by the continual wearing of our shillings and six-pences,
it may be doubtful whether we ought to imitate the example in King
William’s reign, when the clipped money was raised to the old standard.

[15] The Italians gave to the Emperor Maximilian the nickname of
Pochi-Danari. None of the enterprises of that prince ever succeeded,
for want of money.


Nothing is esteemed a more certain sign of the flourishing condition
of any nation than the lowness of interest; and with reason, though
I believe the cause is somewhat different from what is commonly
apprehended. The lowness of interest is generally ascribed to the
plenty of money; but money, however plentiful, has no other effect, if
fixed, than to raise the price of labour. Silver is more common than
gold, and therefore you receive a great quantity of it for the same
commodities. But do you pay less interest for it? Interest in Batavia
and Jamaica is at 10 per cent., in Portugal at 6; though these places,
as we may learn from the prices of everything, abound much more
in gold and silver than either London or Amsterdam.

Were all the gold in England annihilated at once, and one-and-twenty
shillings substituted in the place of every guinea, would money be more
plentiful and interest lower? No surely; we should only use silver
instead of gold. Were gold rendered as common as silver, and silver as
common as copper, would money be more plentiful and interest lower?
We may assuredly give the same answer. Our shillings would then be
yellow, and our halfpence white; and we should have no guineas. No
other difference would ever be observed; no alteration on commerce,
manufactures, navigation, or interest; unless we imagine that the
colour of the metal is of any consequence.

Now, what is so visible in these greater variations of scarcity or
abundance of the precious metals must hold in all inferior changes.
If the multiplying gold and silver fifteen times makes no difference,
much less can the doubling or tripling them. All augmentation has no
other effect than to heighten the price of labour and commodities; and
even this variation is little more than that of a name. In the progress
towards these changes the augmentation may have some influence by
exciting industry; but after the prices are settled, suitable to the
new abundance of gold and silver, it has no manner of influence.

An effect always holds proportion with its cause. Prices have risen
about four times since the discovery of the Indies, and it is probable
that gold and silver have multiplied much more; but interest has not
fallen much above a half. The rate of interest, therefore, is not
derived from the quantity of the precious metals.

Money having merely a fictitious value, arising from the agreement
and convention of men, the greater or less plenty of it is of no
consequence, if we consider a nation within itself; and the quantity
of specie, when once fixed, though never so large, has no other
effect than to oblige every one to tell out a greater number of those
shining bits of metal for clothes, furniture, or equipage, without
increasing any one convenience of life. If a man borrows money
to build a house, he then carries home a greater load; because the
stone, timber, lead, glass, etc., with the labour of the masons and
carpenters, are represented by a greater quantity of gold and silver.
But as these metals are considered merely as representations, there
can no alteration arise from their bulk or quantity, their weight
or colour, either upon their real value or their interest. The same
interest, in all cases, bears the same proportion to the sum. And if
you lent me so much labour and so many commodities, by receiving 5 per
cent. you receive always proportional labour and commodities, however
represented, whether by yellow or white coin, whether by a pound or an
ounce. It is in vain, therefore, to look for the cause of the fall or
rise of interest in the greater or less quantity of gold and silver
which is fixed in any nation.

High interest arises from three circumstances: A great demand for
borrowing; little riches to supply that demand; and great profits
arising from commerce. And these circumstances are a clear proof of the
small advance of commerce and industry, not of the scarcity of gold
and silver. Low interest, on the other hand, proceeds from the three
opposite circumstances: A small demand for borrowing; great riches to
supply that demand; and small profits arising from commerce. And these
circumstances are all connected together, and proceed from the increase
of industry and commerce, not of gold and silver. We shall endeavour
to prove these points as fully and distinctly as possible, and shall
begin with the causes and the effects of a great or small demand for

When the people have emerged ever so little from a savage state, and
their numbers have increased beyond the original multitude, there
must immediately arise an inequality of property; and while some
possess large tracts of land, others are confined within narrow
limits, and some are entirely without any landed property. Those who
possess more land than they can labour employ those who possess none,
and agree to receive a determinate part of the product. Thus
the landed interest is immediately established; nor is there any
settled government, however rude, in which affairs are not on this
footing. Of these proprietors of land, some must presently discover
themselves to be of different tempers from others; and while one would
willingly store up the product of his land for futurity, another
desires to consume at present what should suffice for many years. But
as the spending a settled revenue is a way of life entirely without
occupation, men have so much need of somewhat to fix and engage them,
that pleasures, such as they are, will be the pursuit of the greatest
part of the landholders, and the prodigals amongst them will always
be more numerous than the misers. In a state, therefore, where there
is nothing but a landed interest, as there is little frugality, the
borrowers must be very numerous, and the rate of interest must hold
proportion to it. The difference depends not on the quantity of money,
but on the habits and manners which prevail. By this alone the demand
for borrowing is increased or diminished. Were money so plentiful as
to make an egg be sold for sixpence, so long as there are only landed
gentry and peasants in the state, the borrowers must be numerous and
interest high. The rent for the same farm would be heavier and more
bulky, but the same idleness of the landlord, with the higher prices of
commodities, would dissipate it in the same time, and produce the same
necessity and demand for borrowing.

Nor is the case different with regard to the second circumstance which
we proposed to consider—viz., the great or little riches to supply
this demand. This effect also depends on the habits and ways of living
of the people, not on the quantity of gold and silver. In order to
have in any state a great number of lenders, it is not sufficient nor
requisite that there be great abundance of the precious metals. It is
only requisite that the property or command of that quantity which is
in the state, whether great or small, should be collected in particular
hands, so as to form considerable sums, or compose a great moneyed
interest. This begets a number of lenders and sinks the rate of usury;
and this, I shall venture to affirm, depends not on the quantity
of specie, but on particular manners and customs, which make the specie
gather into separate sums or masses of considerable value.

For suppose that, by miracle, every man in Britain should have five
pounds slipped into his pocket in one night: this would much more than
double the whole money that is at present in the kingdom; and yet there
would not next day, nor for some time, be any more lenders, nor any
variation on the interest. And were there nothing but landlords and
peasants in the state, this money, however abundant, could never gather
into sums; and would only serve to increase the prices of everything,
without any further consequence. The prodigal landlord dissipates it
as fast as he receives it; and the beggarly peasant has no means, nor
view, nor ambition of obtaining above a bare livelihood. The overplus
of borrowers above that of lenders continuing still the same, there
will follow no reduction of interest. That depends upon another
principle, and must proceed from an increase of industry and frugality,
of arts and commerce.

Everything useful to the life of man arises from the ground; but few
things arise in that condition which is requisite to render them
useful. There must, therefore, besides the peasants and the proprietors
of land, be another rank of men, who, receiving from the former the
rude materials, work them into their proper form, and retain part
for their own use and subsistence. In the infancy of society, these
contracts betwixt the artisans and the peasants, and betwixt one
species of artisans and another, are commonly entered into immediately
by the persons themselves, who, being neighbours, are easily acquainted
with each other’s necessities, and can lend their mutual assistance
to supply them. But when men’s industry increases, and their views
enlarge, it is found that the most remote parts of the state can assist
each other as well as the more contiguous, and that this intercourse of
good offices may be carried on to the greatest extent and intricacy.
Hence the origin of merchants, the most useful race of men in the
whole society, who serve as agents between those parts of the
state that are wholly unacquainted and are ignorant of each other’s
necessities. Here are in a city fifty workmen in silk and linen, and a
thousand customers; and these two ranks of men, so necessary to each
other, can never rightly meet till one man erects a shop, to which all
the workmen and all the customers repair. In this province grass rises
in abundance: the inhabitants abound in cheese, and butter, and cattle;
but want bread and corn, which, in a neighbouring province, are in
too great abundance for the use of the inhabitants. One man discovers
this. He brings corn from the one province, and returns with cattle;
and supplying the wants of both, he is, so far, a common benefactor.
As the people increase in numbers and industry, the difficulty of
their intercourse increases: the business of the agency or merchandise
becomes more intricate, and divides, subdivides, compounds, and mixes
to a greater variety. In all these transactions it is necessary, and
reasonable, that a considerable part of the commodities and labour
should belong to the merchant, to whom, in a great measure, they are
owing. And these commodities he will sometimes preserve in kind, or
more commonly convert into money, which is their common representation.
If gold and silver have increased in the state together with the
industry, it will require a great quantity of these metals to represent
a great quantity of commodities and labour; if industry alone has
increased, the prices of everything must sink, and a very small
quantity of specie will serve as a representation.

There is no craving or demand of the human mind more constant and
insatiable than that for exercise and employment, and this desire
seems the foundation of most of our passions and pursuits. Deprive a
man of all business and serious occupation, he runs restless from one
amusement to another; and the weight and oppression which he feels from
idleness is so great that he forgets the ruin which must follow from
his immoderate expenses. Give him a more harmless way of employing his
mind or body, he is satisfied, and feels no longer that insatiable
thirst after pleasure. But if the employment you give him be
profitable, especially if the profit be attached to every particular
exertion of industry, he has gain so often in his eye that he acquires,
by degrees, a passion for it, and knows no such pleasure as that of
seeing the daily increase of his fortune. And this is the reason why
trade increases frugality, and why, among merchants, there is the same
overplus of misers above prodigals as, among the possessors of land,
there is the contrary.

Commerce increases industry, by conveying it readily from one member
of the state to another, and allowing none of it to perish or become
useless. It increases frugality, by giving occupation to men, and
employing them in the arts of gain, which soon engage their affection
and remove all relish for pleasure and expense. It is an infallible
consequence of all industrious professions to beget frugality, and make
the love of gain prevail over the love of pleasure. Among lawyers and
physicians who have any practice there are many more who live within
their income than who exceed it, or even live up to it. But lawyers
and physicians beget no industry, and it is even at the expense of
others they acquire their riches; so that they are sure to diminish the
possessions of some of their fellow-citizens as fast as they increase
their own. Merchants, on the contrary, beget industry, by serving as
canals to convey it through every corner of the state; and at the
same time, by their frugality, they acquire great power over that
industry, and collect a large property in the labour and commodities
which they are the chief instruments in producing. There is no other
profession, therefore, except merchandise, which can make the moneyed
interest considerable, or, in other words, can increase industry, and,
by also increasing frugality, give a great command of that industry to
particular members of the society. Without commerce, the state must
consist chiefly of landed gentry, whose prodigality and expense make a
continual demand for borrowing, and of peasants, who have no sums to
supply that demand. The money never gathers into large stocks or sums
which can be lent at interest. It is dispersed into numberless
hands, who either squander it in idle show and magnificence, or employ
it in the purchase of the common necessaries of life. Commerce alone
assembles it into considerable sums; and this effect it has merely
from the industry which it begets and the frugality which it inspires,
independent of that particular quantity of precious metal which may
circulate in the state.

Thus an increase of commerce, by a necessary consequence, raises a
great number of lenders, and by that means produces a lowness of
interest. We must now consider how far this increase of commerce
diminishes the profits arising from that profession, and gives rise to
the third circumstance requisite to produce a lowness of interest.

It may be proper to observe on this head that low interest and low
profits of merchandise are two events that mutually forward each
other, and are both originally derived from that extensive commerce
which produces opulent merchants and renders the moneyed interest
considerable. Where merchants possess great stocks, whether represented
by few or many pieces of metal, it must frequently happen that when
they either become tired of business or have heirs unwilling or unfit
to engage in commerce, a great deal of these riches will seek an
annual and secure revenue. The plenty diminishes the price, and makes
the lenders accept of a low interest. This consideration obliges
many to keep their stocks in trade, and rather be content with low
profits than dispose of their money at an under value. On the other
hand, when commerce has become very extensive, and employs very large
stocks, there must arise rivalships among the merchants, which diminish
the profits of trade, at the same time that they increase the trade
itself. The low profits of merchandise induce the merchants to accept
more willingly of a low interest, when they leave off business and
begin to indulge themselves in ease and indolence. It is needless,
therefore, to inquire which of these circumstances—viz., low interest
or low profits, is the cause, and which the effect. They both arise
from an extensive commerce, and mutually forward each other. No
man will accept of low profits where he can have high interest, and
no man will accept of low interest where he can have high profits.
An extensive commerce, by producing large stocks, diminishes both
interest and profits; and is always assisted in its diminution of the
one by the proportional sinking of the other. I may add, that as low
profits arise from the increase of commerce and industry, they serve
in their turn to the further increase of commerce, by rendering the
commodities cheaper, encouraging the consumption, and heightening the
industry. And thus, if we consider the whole connection of causes and
effects, interest is the true barometer of the state, and its lowness
is a sign almost infallible of the flourishing of a people. It proves
the increase of industry, and its prompt circulation through the whole
state, little inferior to a demonstration. And though, perhaps, it may
not be impossible but a sudden and a great check to commerce may have
a momentary effect of the same kind, by throwing so many stocks out of
trade, it must be attended with such misery and want of employment in
the poor that, besides its short duration, it will not be possible to
mistake the one case for the other.

Those who have asserted that the plenty of money was the cause of low
interest seem to have taken a collateral effect for a cause, since the
same industry which sinks the interest does commonly acquire great
abundance of the precious metals. A variety of fine manufactures,
with vigilant, enterprising merchants, will soon draw money to a
state if it be anywhere to be found in the world. The same cause, by
multiplying the conveniences of life and increasing industry, collects
great riches into the hands of persons who are not proprietors of
land, and produces by that means a lowness of interest. But though
both these effects—plenty of money and low interest—naturally arise
from commerce and industry, they are altogether independent of each
other. For suppose a nation removed into the Pacific Ocean, without
any foreign commerce, or any knowledge of navigation: suppose
that this nation possesses always the same stock of coin, but is
continually increasing in its numbers and industry: it is evident that
the price of every commodity must gradually diminish in that kingdom,
since it is the proportion between money and any species of goods
which fixes their mutual value; and, under the present supposition,
the conveniences of life become every day more abundant, without any
alteration on the current specie. A less quantity of money, therefore,
amongst this people will make a rich man, during the times of industry,
than would serve to that purpose in ignorant and slothful ages. Less
money will build a house, portion a daughter, buy an estate, support a
manufactory, or maintain a family and equipage. These are the uses for
which men borrow money, and therefore the greater or less quantity of
it in a state has no influence on the interest. But it is evident that
the greater or less stock of labour and commodities must have a great
influence, since we really and in effect borrow these when we take
money upon interest. It is true, when commerce is extended all over the
globe the most industrious nations always abound most with the precious
metals; so that low interest and plenty of money are in fact almost
inseparable. But still it is of consequence to know the principle
whence any phenomenon arises, and to distinguish between a cause and
a concomitant effect. Besides that the speculation is curious, it
may frequently be of use in the conduct of public affairs. At least,
it must be owned that nothing can be of more use than to improve, by
practice, the method of reasoning on these subjects, which of all
others are the most important; though they are commonly treated in the
loosest and most careless manner.

Another reason of this popular mistake with regard to the cause of
low interest seems to be the instance of some nations, where, after a
sudden acquisition of money or the precious metals by means of foreign
conquest, the interest has fallen not only among them but in all
the neighbouring states as soon as that money was dispersed and had
insinuated itself into every corner. Thus, interest in Spain
fell nearly a half immediately after the discovery of the West Indies,
as we are informed by Garcilasso de la Vega; and it has been ever
since sinking in every kingdom of Europe. Interest in Rome, after the
conquest of Egypt, fell from 6 to 4 per cent., as we learn from Dion.

The causes of the sinking of interest upon such an event seem different
in the conquering country and in the neighbouring states, but in
neither of them can we justly ascribe that effect merely to the
increase of gold and silver.

In the conquering country it is natural to imagine that this new
acquisition of money will fall into a few hands, and be gathered into
large sums which seek a secure revenue, either by the purchase of land
or by interest; and consequently the same effect follows, for a little
time, as if there had been a great accession of industry and commerce.
The increase of lenders above the borrowers sinks the interest, and so
much the faster if those who have acquired those large sums find no
industry or commerce in the state, and no method of employing their
money but by lending it at interest. But after this new mass of gold
and silver has been digested, and has circulated through the whole
state, affairs will soon return to their former situation, while the
landlords and new money-holders, living idly, squander above their
income, and the former daily contract debt, and the latter encroach on
their stock till its final extinction. The whole money may still be in
the state, and make itself be felt by the increase of prices, but not
being now collected into any large masses or stocks, the disproportion
between the borrowers and lenders is the same as formerly, and
consequently the high interest returns.

Accordingly, we find in Rome that so early as Tiberius’s time interest
had again mounted to 6 per cent., though no accident had happened to
drain the empire of money. In Trajan’s time money lent on mortgages in
Italy bore 6 per cent.; on common securities in Bithynia, 12. And if
interest in Spain has not risen to its old pitch, this can be ascribed
to nothing but the continuance of the same cause that sunk
it—viz., the large fortunes continually made in the Indies, which come
over to Spain from time to time and supply the demand of the borrowers.
By this accidental and extraneous cause more money is to be lent in
Spain—that is, more money is collected into large sums than would
otherwise be found in a state where there are so little commerce and

As to the reduction of interest which has followed in England, France,
and other kingdoms of Europe that have no mines, it has been gradual,
and has not proceeded from the increase of money, considered merely in
itself, but from the increase of industry, which is the natural effect
of the former increase, in that interval, before it raises the price of
labour and provisions. For to return to the foregoing supposition, if
the industry of England had risen as much from other causes (and that
rise might easily have happened though the stock of money had remained
the same), must not all the same consequences have followed which we
observe at present? The same people would, in that case, be found in
the kingdom, the same commodities, the same industry, manufactures, and
commerce, and consequently the same merchants with the same stocks—that
is, with the same command over labour and commodities, only represented
by a smaller number of white or yellow pieces, which, being a
circumstance of no moment, would only affect the waggoner, porter, and
trunk-maker. Luxury, therefore, manufactures, arts, industry, frugality
flourishing equally as at present, it is evident that interest must
also have been as low, since that is the necessary result of all these
circumstances, so far as they determine the profits of commerce and the
proportion between the borrowers and lenders in any state.


[16] Price for a meal.


It is very usual in nations ignorant of the nature of commerce to
prohibit the exportation of commodities, and to preserve among
themselves whatever they think valuable and useful. They consider not
that in this prohibition they act directly contrary to their intention,
and that the more is exported of any commodity the more will be raised
at home, of which they themselves will always have the first offer.

It is well known to the learned that the ancient laws of Athens
rendered the exportation of figs criminal, that being supposed a
species of fruit so excellent in Attica that the Athenians esteemed it
too delicious for the palate of any foreigner; and in this ridiculous
prohibition they were so much in earnest that informers were thence
called “sycophants” among them, from two Greek words which signify figs
and discoverer. There are proofs in many old Acts of Parliament of the
same ignorance in the nature of commerce, particularly in the reign
of Edward III.; and to this day in France the exportation of corn is
almost always prohibited—in order, as they say, to prevent famines,
though it is evident that nothing contributes more to the frequent
famines which so much distress that fertile country.

The same jealous fear with regard to money has also prevailed among
several nations, and it required both reason and experience to convince
any people that these prohibitions serve to no other purpose than to
raise the exchange against them and produce a still greater exportation.

These errors, one may say, are gross and palpable; but there still
prevails, even in nations well acquainted with commerce, a strong
jealousy with regard to the balance of trade, and a fear that all
their gold and silver may be leaving them. This seems to me, almost in
every case, a very groundless apprehension, and I should as soon
dread that all our springs and rivers should be exhausted as that
money should abandon a kingdom where there are people and industry. Let
us carefully preserve these latter advantages, and we need never be
apprehensive of losing the former.

It is easy to observe that all calculations concerning the balance
of trade are founded on very uncertain facts and suppositions. The
custom-house books are allowed to be an insufficient ground of
reasoning; nor is the rate of exchange much better, unless we consider
it with all nations, and know also the proportion of the several sums
remitted, which one may safely pronounce impossible. Every man who has
ever reasoned on this subject has always proved his theory, whatever
it was, by facts and calculations, and by an enumeration of all the
commodities sent to all foreign kingdoms.

The writings of Mr. Gee struck the nation with a universal panic when
they saw it plainly demonstrated by a detail of particulars that the
balance was against them for so considerable a sum as must leave them
without a single shilling in five or six years. But luckily twenty
years have since elapsed, with an expensive foreign war, and yet it is
commonly supposed that money is still more plentiful among us than in
any former period.

Nothing can be more entertaining on this head than Dr. Swift, an author
so quick in discerning the mistakes and absurdities of others. He says,
in his _Short View of the State of Ireland_, that the whole cash of
that kingdom amounted but to £500,000; that out of this they remitted
every year a neat million to England, and had scarce any other source
from which they could compensate themselves, and little other foreign
trade but the importation of French wines, for which they paid ready
money. The consequence of this situation, which must be owned to be
disadvantageous, was that in a course of three years the current money
of Ireland from £500,000 was reduced to less than two; and at present,
I suppose, in a course of thirty years, it is absolutely nothing. Yet I
know not how that opinion of the advance of riches in Ireland,
which gave the Doctor so much indignation, seems still to continue and
gain ground with everybody.

In short, this apprehension of the wrong balance of trade appears of
such a nature that it discovers itself wherever one is out of humour
with the ministry, or is in low spirits; and as it can never be refuted
by a particular detail of all the exports which counterbalance the
imports, it may here be proper to form a general argument which may
prove the impossibility of that event as long as we preserve our people
and our industry.

Suppose four-fifths of all the money in Britain to be annihilated in
one night, and the nation reduced to the same condition, with regard
to specie, as in the reigns of the Harrys and Edwards, what would be
the consequence? Must not the price of all labour and commodities sink
in proportion, and everything be sold as cheap as they were in those
ages? What nation could then dispute with us in any foreign market, or
pretend to navigate or to sell manufactures at the same price which
to us would afford sufficient profit? In how little time, therefore,
must this bring back the money which we had lost, and raise us to the
level of all the neighbouring nations? where, after we have arrived,
we immediately lose the advantage of the cheapness of labour and
commodities, and the further flowing in of money is stopped by our
fulness and repletion.

Again, suppose that all the money of Britain were multiplied fivefold
in a night, must not the contrary effect follow? Must not labour and
commodities rise to such an exorbitant height that no neighbouring
nations could afford to buy from us, while their commodities, on the
other hand, became so cheap in comparison that, in spite of all the
laws which could be formed, they would be run in upon us, and our money
flow out till we come to a level with foreigners, and lose that great
superiority of riches which had laid us under such disadvantages?

Now, it is evident that the same causes which would correct these
exorbitant inequalities, were they to happen miraculously,
must prevent their happening in the common course of nature, and must
for ever, in all the neighbouring nations, preserve money nearly
proportionable to the art and industry of each nation. All water,
wherever it communicates, remains always at a level. Ask naturalists
the reason: they tell you that were it to be raised in any one place,
the superior gravity of that part not being balanced, must depress it
till it meets a counterpoise; and that the same cause which redresses
the inequality when it happens must for ever prevent it without some
violent external operation.​[17]

Can one imagine that it had ever been possible, by any laws, or even
by any art or industry, to have kept all the money in Spain which the
galleons have brought from the Indies? or that all commodities could
be sold in France for a tenth of the price which they would yield on
the other side of the Pyrenees, without finding their way thither, and
draining from that immense treasure? What other reason, indeed, is
there why all nations at present gain in their trade with Spain and
Portugal, but because it is impossible to heap up money, more than any
fluid, beyond its proper level? The sovereigns of these countries have
shown that they wanted not inclination to keep their gold and silver to
themselves had it been in any degree practicable.

But as any body of water may be raised above the level of the
surrounding element, if the former has no communication with the
latter, so in money, if the communication be cut off by any material
or physical impediment (for all laws alone are ineffectual), there
may, in such a case, be a very great inequality of money. Thus the
immense distance of China, together with the monopolies of our India
companies, obstructing the communication, preserve in Europe
the gold and silver, especially the latter, in much greater plenty
than they are found in that kingdom. But, notwithstanding this great
obstruction, the force of the causes above-mentioned is still evident.
The skill and ingenuity of Europe in general surpasses perhaps that of
China with regard to manual arts and manufactures, yet are we never
able to trade thither without great disadvantage; and were it not for
the continual recruits which we receive from America, money would very
soon sink in Europe and rise in China, till it came nearly to a level
in both places. Nor can any reasonable man doubt but that industrious
nation, were they as near us as Poland or Barbary, would drain us of
the overplus of our specie, and draw to themselves a larger share of
the West Indian treasures. We need have no recourse to a physical
attraction to explain the necessity of this operation; there is a moral
attraction arising from the interests and passions of men which is full
as potent and infallible.

How is the balance kept in the provinces of every kingdom among
themselves but by the force of this principle, which makes it
impossible for money to lose its level, and either to rise or sink
beyond the proportion of the labour and commodities which is in each
province? Did not long experience make people easy on this head, what
a fund of gloomy reflections might calculations afford a melancholy
Yorkshireman while he computed and magnified the sums drawn to London
by taxes, absentees, commodities, and found on comparison the opposite
articles so much inferior? And no doubt, had the Heptarchy subsisted in
England, the legislature of each state had been continually alarmed by
the fear of a wrong balance; and it is probable that the mutual hatred
of these states would have been extremely violent on account of their
close neighbourhood; they would have loaded and oppressed all commerce
by a jealous and superfluous caution. Since the Union has removed the
barriers between Scotland and England, which of these nations gains
from the other by this free commerce? Or if the former kingdom
has received any increase of riches, can it be reasonably accounted for
by anything but the increase of its art and industry? It was a common
apprehension in England before the Union, as we learn from L’Abbe du
Bos, that Scotland would soon drain them of their treasure were an
open trade allowed; and on the other side of the Tweed a contrary
apprehension prevailed—with what justice in both time has shown.

What happens in small portions of mankind must take place in greater.
The provinces of the Roman empire no doubt kept their balance with each
other, and with Italy, independent of the legislature, as much as the
several counties of Britain or the several parishes of each county. And
any man who travels over Europe at this day may see by the prices of
commodities that money, in spite of the absurd jealousy of princes and
states, has brought itself nearly to a level, and that the difference
between one kingdom and another is not greater in this respect than it
is often between different provinces of the same kingdom. Men naturally
flock to capital cities, seaports, and navigable rivers. There we find
more men, more industry, more commodities, and consequently more money;
but still the latter difference holds proportion with the former, and
the level is preserved.​[18]

Our jealousy and our hatred of France are without bounds, and the
former sentiment at least must be acknowledged very reasonable
and well-grounded. These passions have occasioned innumerable barriers
and obstructions upon commerce, where we are accused of being commonly
the aggressors. But what have we gained by the bargain? We lost the
French market for our woollen manufactures, and transferred the
commerce of wine to Spain and Portugal, where we buy much worse liquor
at a higher price. There are few Englishmen who would not think their
country absolutely ruined were French wines sold in England so cheap
and in such abundance as to supplant, in some measure, all ale and
home-brewed liquors; but would we lay aside prejudice, it would not
be difficult to prove that nothing could be more innocent, perhaps
advantageous. Each new acre of vineyard planted in France, in order
to supply England with wine, would make it requisite for the French
to take the produce of an English acre, sown in wheat or barley, in
order to subsist themselves; and it is evident that we have thereby got
command of the better commodity.

There are many edicts of the French King prohibiting the planting of
new vineyards, and ordering all those already planted to be grubbed
up, so sensible are they in that country of the superior value of corn
above every other product.

Mareschal Vauban complains often, and with reason, of the absurd duties
which load the entry of those wines of Languedoc, Guienne, and other
southern provinces that are imported into Brittany and Normandy. He
entertained no doubt but these latter provinces could preserve their
balance notwithstanding the open commerce which he recommends. And it
is evident that a few leagues more navigation to England would make no
difference; or if it did, that it must operate alike on the commodities
of both kingdoms.

There is indeed one expedient by which it is possible to sink, and
another by which we may raise, money beyond its natural level in any
kingdom; but these cases, when examined, will be found to resolve into
our general theory, and to bring additional authority to it.

I scarce know any method of sinking money below its level but those
institutions of banks, funds, and paper-credit which are so much
practised in this kingdom. These render paper equivalent to money,
circulate it through the whole state, make it supply the place of gold
and silver, raise proportionally the price of labour and commodities,
and by that means either banish a great part of those precious metals,
or prevent their further increase. What can be more short-sighted than
our reasonings on this head? We fancy, because an individual would be
much richer were his stock of money doubled, that the same good effect
would follow were the money of every one increased, not considering
that this would raise as much the price of every commodity, and reduce
every man in time to the same condition as before. It is only in our
public negotiations and transactions with foreigners that a greater
stock of money is advantageous; and as our paper is there absolutely
insignificant, we feel, by its means, all the ill effects arising from
a great abundance of money without reaping any of the advantages.​[19]

Suppose that there are twelve millions of paper which circulate in the
kingdom as money (for we are not to imagine that all our enormous funds
are employed in that shape), and suppose the real cash of the kingdom
to be eighteen millions: here is a state which is found by experience
able to hold a stock of thirty millions. I say, if it be able to hold
it, it must of necessity have acquired it in gold and silver had we not
obstructed the entrance of these metals by this new invention of paper.
Whence would it have acquired that sum? From all the kingdoms of the
world. But why? Because, if you remove these twelve millions, money in
this state is below its level compared with our neighbours; and
we must immediately draw from all of them till we be full and saturate,
so to speak, and can hold no more. By our present politics we are as
careful to stuff the nation with this fine commodity of bank-bills
and chequer notes as if we were afraid of being overburdened with the
precious metals.

It is not to be doubted but the great plenty of bullion in France is,
in a great measure, owing to the want of paper-credit. The French have
no banks; merchants’ bills do not there circulate as with us; usury or
lending on interest is not directly permitted, so that many have large
sums in their coffers; great quantities of plate are used in private
houses, and all the churches are full of it. By this means provision
and labour still remain much cheaper among them than in nations that
are not half so rich in gold and silver. The advantages of this
situation in point of trade, as well as in great public emergencies,
are too evident to be disputed.

The same fashion a few years ago prevailed in Genoa which still has
place in England and Holland, of using services of china ware instead
of plate; but the Senate, wisely foreseeing the consequence, prohibited
the use of that brittle commodity beyond a certain extent, while the
use of silver plate was left unlimited. And I suppose, in their late
distresses, they felt the good effect of this ordinance. Our tax on
plate is, perhaps, in this view, somewhat impolitic.

Before the introduction of paper-money into our colonies, they had gold
and silver sufficient for their circulation. Since the introduction of
that commodity, the least inconveniency that has followed is the total
banishment of the precious metals. And after the abolition of paper,
can it be doubted but money will return, while these colonies possess
manufactures and commodities, the only thing valuable in commerce, and
for whose sake alone all men desire money?

What pity Lycurgus did not think of paper-credit when he wanted to
banish gold and silver from Sparta! It would have served his
purpose better than the lumps of iron he made use of as money, and
would also have prevented more effectually all commerce with strangers,
as being of so much less real and intrinsic value.

It must, however, be confessed that, as all these questions of trade
and money are extremely complicated, there are certain lights in
which this subject may be placed so as to represent the advantages of
paper-credit and banks to be superior to their disadvantages. That they
banish specie and bullion from a state is undoubtedly true, and whoever
looks no farther than this circumstance does well to condemn them; but
specie and bullion are not of so great consequence as not to admit of
a compensation, and even an overbalance from the increase of industry
and of credit which may be promoted by the right use of paper-money.
It is well known of what advantage it is to a merchant to be able to
discount his bills upon occasion; and everything that facilitates this
species of traffic is favourable to the general commerce of a state.
But private bankers are enabled to give such credit by the credit they
receive from the depositing of money in their shops; and the Bank of
England in the same manner, from the liberty they have to issue their
notes in all payments. There was an invention of this kind which was
fallen upon some years ago by the banks of Edinburgh, and which, as it
is one of the most ingenious ideas that has been executed in commerce,
has also been found very advantageous to Scotland. It is there called
a bank-credit, and is of this nature: A man goes to the bank and finds
surety to the amount, we shall suppose, of five thousand pounds. This
money, or any part of it, he has the liberty of drawing out whenever
he pleases, and he pays only the ordinary interest for it while it
is in his hands. He may, when he pleases, repay any sum so small as
twenty pounds, and the interest is discounted from the very day of the
repayment. The advantages resulting from this contrivance are manifold.
As a man may find surety nearly to the amount of his substance, and his
bank-credit is equivalent to ready money, a merchant does hereby
in a manner coin his houses, his household furniture, the goods in his
warehouse, the foreign debts due to him, his ships at sea; and can,
upon occasion, employ them in all payments as if they were the current
money of the country. If a man borrows five thousand pounds from a
private hand, besides that it is not always to be found when required,
he pays interest for it whether he be using it or not; his bank-credit
costs him nothing except during the very moment in which it is of
service to him, and this circumstance is of equal advantage as if he
had borrowed money at much lower interest. Merchants likewise from this
invention acquire a great facility in supporting each other’s credit,
which is a considerable security against bankruptcies. A man, when his
own bank-credit is exhausted, goes to any of his neighbours who is not
in the same condition, and he gets the money, which he replaces at his

After this practice had taken place during some years at Edinburgh,
several companies of merchants at Glasgow carried the matter farther.
They associated themselves into different banks and issued notes so
low as ten shillings, which they used in all payments for goods,
manufactures, tradesmen, labour of all kinds; and these notes, from
the established credit of the companies, passed as money in all
payments throughout the country. By this means a stock of five thousand
pounds was able to perform the same operations as if it were ten,
and merchants were thereby enabled to trade to a greater extent, and
to require less profit in all their transactions. In Newcastle and
Bristol, as well as other trading places, the merchants have since
instituted banks of a like nature, in imitation of those in Glasgow.
But whatever other advantages result from these inventions, it must
still be allowed that they banish the precious metals; and nothing
can be a more evident proof of it than a comparison of the past and
present condition of Scotland in that particular. It was found, upon
the recoinage made after the Union, that there was near a million of
specie in that country; but notwithstanding the great increase of
riches, commerce and manufactures of all kinds, it is thought that,
even where there is no extraordinary drain made by England, the current
specie will not now amount to a fifth of that sum.

But as our projects of paper-credit are almost the only expedient by
which we can sink money below its level, so, in my opinion, the only
expedient by which we can raise money above its level is a practice
which we should all exclaim against as destructive—viz., the gathering
large sums into a public treasure, locking them up, and absolutely
preventing their circulation. The fluid not communicating with the
neighbouring element may, by such an artifice, be raised to what height
we please. To prove this we need only return to our first supposition
of the annihilating the half or any part of our cash, where we found
that the immediate consequence of such an event would be the attraction
of an equal sum from all the neighbouring kingdoms. Nor does there seem
to be any necessary bounds set by the nature of things to this practice
of hoarding. A small city like Geneva, continuing this policy for ages,
might engross nine-tenths of the money of Europe. There seems, indeed,
in the nature of man an invincible obstacle to that immense growth
of riches. A weak state with an enormous treasure will soon become a
prey to some of its poorer but more powerful neighbours; a great state
would dissipate its wealth in dangerous and ill-concerted projects,
and probably destroy with it what is much more valuable—the industry,
morals, and number of its people. The fluid in this case, raised to too
great a height, bursts and destroys the vessel that contains it, and
mixing itself with the surrounding element, soon falls to its proper

So little are we commonly acquainted with this principle that, though
all historians agree in relating uniformly so recent an event as the
immense treasure amassed by Harry VII. (which they make amount to
£1,700,000), we rather reject their concurring testimony than admit
of a fact which agrees so ill with our inveterate prejudices. It is
indeed probable that that sum might be three-fourths of all
the money in England; but where is the difficulty that such a sum
might be amassed in twenty years by a cunning, rapacious, frugal, and
almost absolute monarch? Nor is it probable that the diminution of
circulating money was ever sensibly felt by the people, or ever did
them any prejudice. The sinking of the prices of all commodities would
immediately replace it, by giving England the advantage in its commerce
with all the neighbouring kingdoms.

Have we not an instance in the small republic of Athens with its
allies, who in about fifty years between the Median and Peloponnesian
Wars amassed a sum greater than that of Harry VII.?​[20] for all the
Greek historians and orators agree that the Athenians collected in the
citadel more than 10,000 talents, which they afterwards dissipated,
to their own ruin, in rash and imprudent enterprises. But when this
money was set a-running, and began to communicate with the surrounding
fluid, what was the consequence? Did it remain in the state? No; for
we find by the memorable census mentioned by Demosthenes and Polybius
that, in about fifty years afterwards, the whole value of the republic,
comprehending lands, houses, commodities, slaves, and money was less
than 6000 talents.

What an ambitious, high-spirited people was this, to collect and keep
in their treasury, with a view to conquests, a sum which it was every
day in the power of the citizens, by a single vote, to distribute among
themselves, and which would go near to triple the riches of every
individual; for we must observe that the numbers and private riches of
the Athenians are said by ancient writers to have been no greater at
the beginning of the Peloponnesian War than at the beginning of the

Money was little more plentiful in Greece during the age of Philip
and Perseus than in England during that of Harry VII., yet these two
monarchs in thirty years collected from the small kingdom of
Macedon a much larger treasure than that of the English monarch.
Paulus Æmilius brought to Rome about £1,700,000 sterling—Pliny says
£2,400,000—and that was but a part of the Macedonian treasure; the rest
was dissipated by the resistance and flight of Perseus.

We may learn from Stanyan that the Canton of Berne had £300,000 lent
at interest, and had above six times as much in their treasury. Here,
then, is a sum hoarded of £1,800,000 sterling, which is at least
quadruple of what should naturally circulate in such a petty state;
and yet no one who travels into the Pais de Vaux, or any part of that
canton, observes any want of money more than could be supposed in a
country of that extent, soil, and situation. On the contrary, there are
scarce any inland provinces in the countries of France or Germany where
the inhabitants are at this time so opulent, though that canton has
vastly increased its treasure since 1714, the time when Stanyan wrote
his judicious account of Switzerland.​[21]

The account given by Appian of the treasure of the Ptolemies is so
prodigious that one cannot admit of it, and so much the less because
the historian says the other successors of Alexander were all so
frugal, and had many of them treasures not much inferior; for this
saving humour of the neighbouring princes must necessarily have checked
the frugality of the Egyptian monarchs, according to the foregoing
theory. The sum he mentions is 740,000 talents, or £191,166,666 13s.
4d., according to Dr. Arbuthnot’s computation; and yet Appian says that
he extracted his account from the public records, and he was himself a
native of Alexandria.

From these principles we may learn what judgment we ought to form of
those numberless bars, obstructions, and imposts which all nations of
Europe, and none more than England, have put upon trade, from an
exorbitant desire of amassing money, which never will heap up beyond
its level while it circulates; or from an ill-grounded apprehension of
losing their specie, which never will sink below it. Could anything
scatter our riches, it would be such impolitic contrivances. But this
general ill effect, however, results from them, that they deprive
neighbouring nations of that free communication and exchange which the
Author of the world has intended, by giving them soils, climates, and
geniuses so different from each other.

Our modern politics embrace the only method of banishing money—the
using paper-credit; they reject the only method of amassing it, the
practice of hoarding; and they adopt a hundred contrivances which
serve to no purpose but to check industry, and rob ourselves and our
neighbours of the common benefits of art and nature.

All taxes, however, upon foreign commodities are not to be regarded
as prejudicial or useless, but those only which are founded on the
jealousy above mentioned. A tax on German linen encourages home
manufactures, and thereby multiplies our people and industry; a tax on
brandy increases the sale of rum, and supports our southern colonies.
And as it is necessary imposts should be levied for the support of
government, it may be thought more convenient to lay them on foreign
commodities, which can easily be intercepted at the port and subjected
to the impost. We ought, however, always to remember the maxim of Dr.
Swift, that, in the arithmetic of the customs, two and two make not
four, but often make only one. It can scarcely be doubted but if the
duties on wine were lowered to a third, they would yield much more to
the Government than at present; our people might thereby afford to
drink commonly a better and more wholesome liquor, and no prejudice
would ensue to the balance of trade, of which we are so jealous. The
manufacture of ale beyond the agriculture is but inconsiderable, and
gives employment to few hands. The transport of wine and corn would not
be much inferior.

But are there not frequent instances, you will say, of states and
kingdoms which were formerly rich and opulent, and are now poor
and beggarly? Has not the money left them with which they formerly
abounded? I answer, if they lose their trade, industry, and people,
they cannot expect to keep their gold and silver, for these precious
metals will hold proportion to the former advantages. When Lisbon
and Amsterdam got the East India trade from Venice and Genoa, they
also got the profits and money which arose from it. Where the seat
of government is transferred, where expensive armies are maintained
at a distance, where great funds are possessed by foreigners, there
naturally follows from these causes a diminution of the specie. But
these, we may observe, are violent and forcible methods of carrying
away money, and are in time commonly attended with the transport of
people and industry; but where these remain, and the drain is not
continued, the money always finds its way back again, by a hundred
canals of which we have no notion or suspicion. What immense treasures
have been spent, by so many nations, in Flanders since the revolution,
in the course of three long wars! More money perhaps than the half of
what is at present in all Europe. But what has now become of it? Is it
in the narrow compass of the Austrian provinces? No, surely; it has
most of it returned to the several countries whence it came, and has
followed that art and industry by which at first it was acquired. For
above a thousand years the money of Europe has been flowing to Rome by
an open and sensible current; but it has been emptied by many secret
and insensible canals, and the want of industry and commerce renders at
present the papal dominions the poorest territories in all Italy.

In short, a government has great reason to preserve with care its
people and its manufactures. Its money it may safely trust to the
course of human affairs, without fear or jealousy; or if it ever give
attention to this latter circumstance, it ought only to be so far as it
affects the former.


[17] There is another cause, though more limited in its operation,
which checks the wrong balance of trade, to every particular nation to
which the kingdom trades. When we import more goods than we export,
the exchange turns against us, and this becomes a new encouragement to
export, as much as the charge of carriage and insurance of the money
which becomes due would amount to. For the exchange can never rise
higher than that sum.

[18] It must carefully be remarked that throughout this discourse,
wherever I speak of the level of money I mean always its proportional
level to the commodities, labour, industry, and skill which is in the
several states; and I assert that where these advantages are double,
treble, quadruple to what they are in the neighbouring states, the
money infallibly will also be double, treble, quadruple. The only
circumstance that can obstruct the exactness of these proportions is
the expense of transporting the commodities from one place to another,
and this expense is sometimes unequal. Thus the corn, cattle, cheese,
butter of Derbyshire cannot draw the money of London so much as the
manufactures of London draw the money of Derbyshire. But this objection
is only a seeming one, for so far as the transport of commodities is
expensive, so far is the communication between the places obstructed
and imperfect.

[19] We observed in essay _Of Money_, that money, when increasing,
gives encouragement to industry during the interval between the
increase of money and the rise of the prices. A good effect of this
nature may follow too from paper-credit; but it is dangerous to
precipitate matters at the risk of losing all by the failing of that
credit, as must happen upon any violent shock in public affairs.

[20] There were about eight ounces of silver in a pound sterling in
Harry VII.’s time.

[21] The poverty which Stanyan speaks of is only to be seen in the most
mountainous cantons, where there is no commodity to bring money; and
even there the people are not poorer than in the diocese of Saltsburg
on the one hand, or Savoy on the other.


Having endeavoured to remove one species of ill-founded jealousy which
is so prevalent among commercial nations, it may not be amiss to
mention another which seems equally groundless. Nothing is more usual,
among states which have made some advances in commerce, than to look on
the progress of their neighbours with a suspicious eye, to consider all
trading states as their rivals, and to suppose that it is impossible
for any of them to flourish but at their expense. In opposition to
this narrow and malignant opinion, I will venture to assert that the
increase of riches and commerce in any one nation, instead of hurting,
commonly promotes the riches and commerce of all its neighbours;
and that a state can scarcely carry its trade and industry very far
where all the surrounding states are buried in ignorance, sloth, and

It is obvious that the domestic industry of a people cannot be hurt
by the greatest prosperity of their neighbours; and as this branch of
commerce is undoubtedly the most important in any extensive kingdom,
we are so far removed from all reason of jealousy. But I go farther,
and observe that where an open communication is preserved among
nations, it is impossible but the domestic industry of every one must
receive an increase from the improvements of the others. Compare the
situation of Great Britain at present with what it was two centuries
ago. All the arts, both of agriculture and manufactures, were then
extremely rude and imperfect. Every improvement which we have since
made has arisen from our imitation of foreigners, and we ought so far
to esteem it happy that they had previously made advances in arts and
ingenuity. But this intercourse is still upheld to our great advantage.
Notwithstanding the advanced state of our manufactures, we daily
adopt in every art the inventions and improvements of our neighbours.
The commodity is first imported from abroad, to our great
discontent, while we imagine that it drains us of our money; afterwards
the art itself is gradually imported, to our visible advantage. Yet we
continue still to repine that our neighbours should possess any art,
industry, and invention, forgetting that had they not first instructed
us we should have been at present barbarians, and did they not still
continue their instructions, the arts must fall into a state of
languor, and lose that emulation and novelty which contribute so much
to their advancement.

The increase of domestic industry lays the foundation of foreign
commerce. Where a great number of commodities are raised and perfected
for the home-market there will always be found some which can be
exported with advantage. But if our neighbours have no art nor
cultivation, they cannot take them, because they will have nothing to
give in exchange. In this respect, states are in the same condition
as individuals. A single man can scarce be industrious where all his
fellow-citizens are idle. The riches of the several members of a
community contribute to increase my riches, whatever profession I may
follow. They consume the produce of my industry, and afford me the
produce of theirs in return.

Nor need any state entertain apprehensions that their neighbours will
improve to such a degree in every art and manufacture as to have no
demand from them. Nature, by giving a diversity of geniuses, climates,
and soils to different nations, has secured their mutual intercourse
and commerce, as long as they all remain industrious and civilized.
Nay, the more the arts increase in any state, the more will be its
demands from its industrious neighbours. The inhabitants, having become
opulent and skilful, desire to have every commodity in the utmost
perfection; and as they have plenty of commodities to give in exchange,
they make large importations from every foreign country. The industry
of the nations from whom they import receives encouragement; their own
is also increased by the sale of the commodities which they give in

But what if a nation has any staple commodity, such as the woollen
manufacture is to England? Must not the interfering of their neighbours
in that manufacture be a loss to them? I answer that when any commodity
is denominated the staple of a kingdom, it is supposed that that
kingdom has some peculiar and natural advantages for raising the
commodity; and if, notwithstanding these advantages, they lose such a
manufactory, they ought to blame their own idleness or bad government,
not the industry of their neighbours. It ought also to be considered
that by the increase of industry among the neighbouring nations the
consumption of every particular species of commodity is also increased;
and though foreign manufactures interfere with us in the market, the
demand for our product may still continue, or even increase. And even
should it diminish, ought the consequence to be esteemed so fatal? If
the spirit of industry be preserved, it may easily be diverted from
one branch to another, and the manufactures of wool, for instance, be
employed in linen, silk, iron, or other commodities for which there
appears to be a demand. We need not apprehend that all the objects
of industry will be exhausted, or that our manufacturers, while they
remain on an equal footing with those of our neighbours, will be in
danger of wanting employment; the emulation among rival nations serves
rather to keep industry alive in all of them. And any people is happier
who possess a variety of manufactures, than if they enjoyed one single
great manufacture, in which they are all employed. Their situation is
less precarious, and they will feel less sensibly those revolutions and
uncertainties to which every particular branch of commerce will always
be exposed.

The only commercial state which ought to dread the improvements and
industry of their neighbours is such a one as Holland, which enjoying
no extent of land, nor possessing any native commodity, flourishes
only by being the brokers, and factors, and carriers of others. Such a
people may naturally apprehend that as soon as the neighbouring
states come to know and pursue their interest, they will take into
their own hands the management of their affairs, and deprive their
brokers of that profit which they formerly reaped from it. But though
this consequence may naturally be dreaded, it is very long before it
takes place; and by art and industry it may be warded off for many
generations, if not wholly eluded. The advantage of superior stocks
and correspondence is so great that it is not easily overcome; and
as all the transactions increase by the increase of industry in the
neighbouring states, even a people whose commerce stands on this
precarious basis may at first reap a considerable profit from the
flourishing condition of their neighbours. The Dutch, having mortgaged
all their revenues, make not such a figure in political transactions
as formerly; but their commerce is surely equal to what it was in the
middle of the last century, when they were reckoned among the great
powers of Europe.

Were our narrow and malignant politics to meet with success, we should
reduce all our neighbouring nations to the same state of sloth and
ignorance that prevails in Morocco and the coast of Barbary. But what
would be the consequence? They could send us no commodities, they could
take none from us. Our domestic commerce itself would languish for want
of emulation, example, and instruction; and we ourselves should soon
fall into the same abject condition to which we had reduced them. I
shall therefore venture to acknowledge that not only as a man, but as a
British subject, I pray for the flourishing commerce of Germany, Spain,
Italy, and even France itself. I am at least certain that Great Britain
and all these nations would flourish more did their sovereigns and
ministers adopt such enlarged and benevolent sentiments towards each


It is a question whether the _idea_ of the balance of power be owing
entirely to modern policy, or whether the _phrase_ only has been
invented in these latter ages. It is certain that Xenophon, in his
institution of Cyrus, represents the combination of the Asiatic powers
to have arisen from a jealousy of the increasing force of the Medes
and Persians; and though that elegant composition should be supposed
altogether a romance, this sentiment, ascribed by the author to the
Eastern princes, is at least a proof of the prevailing notions of
ancient times.

In all the politics of Greece the anxiety with regard to the balance
of power is most apparent, and is expressly pointed out to us even by
the ancient historians. Thucydides represents the league which was
formed against Athens, and which produced the Peloponnesian war, as
entirely owing to this principle. And after the decline of Athens,
when the Thebans and Lacedemonians disputed for sovereignty, we find
that the Athenians (as well as many other republics) threw themselves
always into the lighter scale, and endeavoured to preserve the balance.
They supported Thebes against Sparta, till the great victory gained by
Epaminondas at Leuctra, after which they immediately went over to the
conquered, from generosity as they pretended, but in reality from their
jealousy of the conquerors.

Whoever will read Demosthenes’ oration for the Megalopolitans may see
the utmost refinements on this principle which ever entered into the
head of a Venetian or English speculatist; and upon the first rise of
the Macedonian power, this orator immediately discovered the danger,
sounded the alarm through all Greece, and at last assembled that
confederacy under the banners of Athens which fought the great and
decisive battle of Chæronea.

It is true the Grecian wars are regarded by historians as wars of
emulation rather than of politics, and each state seems to have had
more in view the honour of leading the rest than any well-grounded
hopes of authority and dominion. If we consider, indeed, the small
number of inhabitants in any one republic compared to the whole,
the great difficulty of forming sieges in those times, and the
extraordinary bravery and discipline of every freeman among that noble
people, we shall conclude that the balance of power was of itself
sufficiently secured in Greece, and needed not to be guarded with that
caution which may be requisite in other ages. But whether we ascribe
the shifting sides in all the Grecian republics to jealous emulation or
cautious politics, the effects were alike, and every prevailing power
was sure to meet with a confederacy against it, and that often composed
of its former friends and allies.

The same principle—call it envy or prudence—which produced the
ostracism of Athens and petalism of Syracuse, and expelled every
citizen whose fame or power overtopped the rest—the same principle, I
say, naturally discovered itself in foreign politics, and soon raised
enemies to the leading state, however moderate in the exercise of its

The Persian monarch was really, in his force, a petty prince compared
to the Grecian republics, and therefore it behoved him, from views of
safety more than from emulation, to interest himself in their quarrels,
and to support the weaker side in every contest. This was the advice
given by Alcibiades to Tissaphernes, and it prolonged near a century
the date of the Persian empire; till the neglect of it for a moment,
after the first appearance of the aspiring genius of Philip, brought
that lofty and frail edifice to the ground with a rapidity of which
there are few instances in the history of mankind.

The successors of Alexander showed an infinite jealousy of the balance
of power, a jealousy founded on true politics and prudence, and which
preserved distinct for several ages the partitions made after the death
of that famous conqueror. The fortune and ambition of Antigonus
threatened them anew with a universal monarchy, but their combination
and their victory at Ipsus saved them; and in after times we find that
as the Eastern princes considered the Greeks and Macedonians as the
only real military force with whom they had any intercourse, they kept
always a watchful eye over that part of the world. The Ptolemies, in
particular, supported first Aratus and the Achæans, and then Cleomenes
King of Sparta, from no other view than as a counterbalance to the
Macedonian monarchs; for this is the account which Polybius gives of
the Egyptian politics.

The reason why it is supposed that the ancients were entirely ignorant
of the balance of power seems to be drawn from the Roman history more
than the Grecian, and as the transactions of the former are generally
the most familiar to us, we have thence formed all our conclusions.
It must be owned that the Romans never met with any such general
combination or confederacy against them as might naturally be expected
from their rapid conquests and declared ambition, but were allowed
peaceably to subdue their neighbours, one after another, till they
extended their dominion over the whole known world. Not to mention
the fabulous history of their Italic wars, there was, upon Hannibal’s
invasion of the Roman state, a very remarkable crisis which ought to
have called up the attention of all civilized nations. It appeared
afterwards (nor was it difficult to be observed at the time​[22]) that
this was a contest for universal empire, and yet no prince or state
seems to have been in the least alarmed about the event or issue of the
quarrel. Philip of Macedon remained neuter till he saw the victories
of Hannibal, and then most imprudently formed an alliance with the
conqueror, upon terms still more imprudent. He stipulated that he was
to assist the Carthaginian state in their conquest of Italy, after
which they engaged to send over forces into Greece, to assist him
in subduing the Grecian commonwealths.

The Rhodean and Achæan republics are much celebrated by ancient
historians for their wisdom and sound policy; yet both of them
assisted the Romans in their wars against Philip and Antiochus. And
what may be esteemed still a stronger proof that this maxim was not
familiarly known in those ages, no ancient author has ever remarked the
imprudence of these measures, nor has even blamed that absurd treaty
above-mentioned made by Philip with the Carthaginians. Princes and
statesmen may in all ages be blinded in their reasonings with regard
to events beforehand, but it is somewhat extraordinary that historians
afterwards should not form a sounder judgment of them.

Massinissa, Attalus, Prusias, in satisfying their private passions,
were all of them the instruments of the Roman greatness, and never seem
to have suspected that they were forging their own chains while they
advanced the conquests of their ally. A simple treaty and agreement
between Massinissa and the Carthaginians, so much required by mutual
interest, barred the Romans from all entrance into Africa, and
preserved liberty to mankind.

The only prince we meet with in the Roman history who seems to have
understood the balance of power is Hiero, King of Syracuse. Though
the ally of Rome, he sent assistance to the Carthaginians during the
war of the auxiliaries: “Esteeming it requisite,” says Polybius,
“both in order to retain his dominions in Sicily and to preserve the
Roman friendship, that Carthage should be safe; lest by its fall
the remaining power should be able, without contrast or opposition,
to execute every purpose and undertaking. And here he acted with
great wisdom and prudence; for that is never, on any account, to be
overlooked, nor ought such a force ever to be thrown into one hand as
to incapacitate the neighbouring states from defending their rights
against it.” Here is the aim of modern politics pointed out in express

In short, the maxim of preserving the balance of power is
founded so much on common sense and obvious reasoning that it is
impossible it could altogether have escaped antiquity, where we
find, in other particulars, so many marks of deep penetration and
discernment. If it was not so generally known and acknowledged as
at present, it had at least an influence on all the wiser and more
experienced princes and politicians; and indeed, even at present,
however generally known and acknowledged among speculative reasoners,
it has not, in practice, an authority much more extensive among those
who govern the world.

After the fall of the Roman Empire the form of government established
by the northern conquerors incapacitated them in a great measure
from further conquests, and long maintained each state in its proper
boundaries; but when vassalage and the feudal militia were abolished
mankind were anew alarmed by the danger of universal monarchy, from
the union of so many kingdoms and principalities in the person of the
Emperor Charles. But the power of the house of Austria, founded on
extensive but divided dominions, and their riches, derived chiefly from
mines of gold and silver, were more likely to decay, of themselves,
from internal defects, than to overthrow all the bulwarks raised
against them. In less than a century the force of that violent and
haughty race was shattered, their opulence dissipated, their splendour
eclipsed. A new power succeeded, more formidable to the liberties of
Europe, possessing all the advantages of the former and labouring under
none of its defects, except a share of that spirit of bigotry and
persecution with which the house of Austria were so long and still are
so much infatuated.

Europe has now, for above a century, remained on the defensive against
the greatest force that ever perhaps was formed by the civil or
political combination of mankind. And such is the influence of the
maxim here treated of, that though that ambitious nation in the five
last general wars has been victorious in four,​[23] and unsuccessful
only in one,​[24] they have not much enlarged their dominions,
nor acquired a total ascendant over Europe. There remains rather room
to hope that by maintaining the resistance some time the natural
revolutions of human affairs, together with unforeseen events and
accidents, may guard us against universal monarchy, and preserve the
world from so great an evil.

In the three last of these general wars Britain has stood foremost in
the glorious struggle, and she still maintains her station as guardian
of the general liberties of Europe, and patron of mankind. Beside her
advantages of riches and situation, her people are animated with such a
national spirit, and are so fully sensible of the inestimable blessings
of their government, that we may hope their vigour never will languish
in so necessary and so just a cause. On the contrary, if we may judge
by the past, their passionate ardour seems rather to require some
moderation, and they have oftener erred from a laudable excess than
from a blameable deficiency.

In the first place, we seem to have been more possessed with the
ancient Greek spirit of jealous emulation than actuated with the
prudent views of modern politics. Our wars with France have been begun
with justice, and even, perhaps, from necessity; but have always
been too far pushed from obstinacy and passion. The same peace which
was afterwards made at Ryswick in 1697 was offered so early as the
ninety-two; that concluded at Utrecht in 1712 might have been finished
on as good conditions at Gertruytenberg in the eight; and we might have
given at Frankfort in 1743 the same terms which we were glad to accept
of at Aix-la-Chapelle in the forty-eight. Here then we see that above
half of our wars with France, and all our public debts, are owing more
to our own imprudent vehemence than to the ambition of our neighbours.

In the second place, we are so declared in our opposition to French
power, and so alert in defence of our allies, that they always
reckon upon our force as upon their own, and expecting to carry on war
at our expense, refuse all reasonable terms of accommodation. _Habent
subjectos, tanquam suos; viles, ut alienos._ All the world knows that
the factious vote of the House of Commons in the beginning of the last
Parliament, with the professed humour of the nation, made the Queen
of Hungary inflexible in her terms, and prevented that agreement with
Prussia which would immediately have restored the general tranquillity
of Europe.

In the third place, we are such true combatants that, when once
engaged, we lose all concern for ourselves and our posterity, and
consider only how we may best annoy the enemy. To mortgage our revenues
at so deep a rate in wars where we are only accessories was surely the
most fatal delusion that a nation, who had any pretension to politics
and prudence, has ever yet been guilty of. That remedy of funding—if
it be a remedy and not rather a poison—ought, in all reason, to be
reserved to the last extremity, and no evil but the greatest and most
urgent should ever induce us to embrace so dangerous an expedient.

These excesses to which we have been carried are prejudicial, and
may perhaps in time become still more prejudicial another way, by
begetting, as is usual, the opposite extreme, and rendering us totally
careless and supine with regard to the fate of Europe. The Athenians,
from the most bustling, intriguing, warlike people of Greece, finding
their error in thrusting themselves into every quarrel, abandoned all
attention to foreign affairs, and in no contest ever took party on
either side, except by their flatteries and complaisance to the victor.

Enormous monarchies are probably destructive to human nature—in their
progress, in their continuance,​[25] and even in their downfall,
which never can be very distant from their establishment.
The military genius which aggrandized the monarchy soon leaves the
court, the capital, and the centre of such a government; while the
wars are carried on at a great distance, and interest so small a
part of the state. The ancient nobility, whose affections attach
them to their sovereign, live all at court; and never will accept of
military employments which would carry them to remote and barbarous
frontiers, where they are distant both from their pleasures and their
fortune. The arms of the state must therefore be trusted to mercenary
strangers, without zeal, without attachment, without honour, ready
on every occasion to turn them against the prince, and join each
desperate malcontent who offers pay and plunder. This is the necessary
progress of human affairs; thus human nature checks itself in its
airy elevations, thus ambition blindly labours for the destruction of
the conqueror, of his family, and of everything near and dear to him.
The Bourbons, trusting to the support of their brave, faithful, and
affectionate nobility, would push their advantage without reserve or
limitation. These, while fired with glory and emulation, can bear the
fatigues and dangers of war; but never would submit to languish in the
garrisons of Hungary or Lithuania, forgot at court, and sacrificed to
the intrigues of every minion or mistress who approaches the prince.
The troops are filled with Cravates and Tartars, Hussars and Cossacks,
intermingled perhaps with a few soldiers of fortune from the better
provinces; and the melancholy fate of the Roman emperors, from the same
cause, is renewed over and over again till the final dissolution of the


[22] It was observed by some, as appears from the speech of Agelaus of
Naupactum, in the general congress of Greece. See Polyb., lib. 5, cap.

[23] Those concluded by the Peace of the Pyrenees, Nimeguen, Ryswick,
and Aix-la-Chapelle.

[24] That concluded by the Peace of Utrecht.

[25] If the Roman Empire was of advantage, it could only proceed from
this, that mankind were generally in a very disorderly, uncivilized
condition before its establishment.


There is a maxim that prevails among those whom in this country we call
“ways and means” men, and who are denominated financiers and maltotiers
in France, that every new tax creates a new ability in the subject to
bear it, and that each increase of public burdens increases
proportionably the industry of the people. This maxim is of such a
nature as is most likely to be extremely abused, and is so much the
more dangerous, as its truth cannot be altogether denied; but it must
be owned, when kept within certain bounds, to have some foundation in
reason and experience.

When a tax is laid upon commodities which are consumed by the common
people, the necessary consequence may seem to be that either the poor
must retrench something from their way of living, or raise their wages
so as to make the burden of the tax fall entirely upon the rich. But
there is a third consequence which very often follows upon taxes—viz.,
that the poor increase their industry, perform more work, and live as
well as before without demanding more for their labour. Where taxes
are moderate, are laid on gradually, and affect not the necessaries of
life, this consequence naturally follows; and it is certain that such
difficulties often serve to excite the industry of a people, and render
them more opulent and laborious than others who enjoy the greatest
advantages. For we may observe, as a parallel instance, that the most
commercial nations have not always possessed the greatest extent of
fertile land; but, on the contrary, that they have laboured under many
natural disadvantages. Tyre, Athens, Carthage, Rhodes, Genoa, Venice,
Holland are strong examples to this purpose; and in all history we
find only three instances of large and fertile countries which have
possessed much trade—the Netherlands, England, and France. The two
former seem to have been allured by the advantages of their maritime
situation, and the necessity they lay under of frequenting foreign
ports in order to procure what their own climate refused them; and as
to France, trade has come very late into the kingdom, and seems to
have been the effect of reflection and observation in an ingenious and
enterprising people, who remarked the immense riches acquired by such
of the neighbouring nations as cultivated navigation and commerce.

The places mentioned by Cicero as possessed of the greatest
commerce of his time are Alexandria, Colchos, Tyre, Sidon, Andros,
Cyprus, Pamphylia, Lycia, Rhodes, Chios, Byzantium, Lesbos, Smyrna,
Miletum, Coos. All these, except Alexandria, were either small islands
or narrow territories; and that city owed its trade entirely to the
happiness of its situation.

Since, therefore, some natural necessities or disadvantages may be
thought favourable to industries, why may not artificial burdens have
the same effect? Sir William Temple,​[26] we may observe, ascribes the
industry of the Dutch entirely to necessity, proceeding from their
natural disadvantages; and illustrates his doctrine by a very striking
comparison with Ireland, “where,” says he, “by the largeness and plenty
of the soil, and scarcity of people, all things necessary to life are
so cheap that an industrious man by two days’ labour may gain enough to
feed him the rest of the week. Which I take to be a very plain ground
of the laziness attributed to the people. For men naturally prefer ease
before labour, and will not take pains if they can live idle; though
when, by necessity, they have been inured to it, they cannot leave
it, being grown a custom necessary to their health, and to their very
entertainment. Nor perhaps is the change harder from constant ease
to labour than from constant labour to ease.” After which the author
proceeds to confirm his doctrine by enumerating as above the places
where trade has most flourished in ancient and modern times, and which
are commonly observed by such narrow, confined territories as beget a
necessity for industry.

It is always observed in years of scarcity, if it be not extreme, that
the poor labour more and really live better than in years of great
plenty, when they indulge themselves in idleness and riot. I have been
told by a considerable manufacturer that in the year 1740, when bread
and provisions of all kinds were very dear, his workmen not only made
a shift to live, but paid debts which they had contracted in
former years that were much more favourable and abundant.

This doctrine, therefore, with regard to taxes may be admitted to
some degree, but beware of the abuse. Exorbitant taxes, like extreme
necessity, destroy industry by producing despair; and even before they
reach this pitch they raise the wages of the labourer and manufacturer,
and heighten the price of all commodities. An attentive, disinterested
legislature will observe the point when the emolument ceases and the
prejudice begins; but as the contrary character is much more common,
it is to be feared that taxes all over Europe are multiplying to
such a degree as will entirely crush all art and industry; though
perhaps their first increase, together with circumstances, might have
contributed to the growth of these advantages.

The best taxes are such as are levied upon consumptions, especially
those of luxury, because such taxes are less felt by the people. They
seem, in some measure, voluntary, since a man may choose how far
he will use the commodity which is taxed: they are paid gradually
and insensibly, and being confounded with the natural price of the
commodity, they are scarcely perceived by the consumers. Their only
disadvantage is that they are expensive in the levying.

Taxes upon possessions are levied without expense, but have every other
disadvantage. Most states, however, are obliged to have recourse to
them, in order to supply the deficiencies of the other.

But the most pernicious of all taxes are those which are arbitrary.
They are commonly converted by their management into punishments on
industry; and also by their unavoidable inequality are more grievous
than by the real burden which they impose. It is surprising, therefore,
to see them have place among any civilized people.

In general, all poll-taxes, even when not arbitrary—which they commonly
are—may be esteemed dangerous; because it is so easy for the sovereign
to add a little more and a little more to the sum demanded, that these
taxes are apt to become altogether oppressive and intolerable. On the
other hand, a duty upon commodities checks itself, and a prince
will soon find that an increase of the impost is no increase of his
revenue. It is not easy, therefore, for a people to be altogether
ruined by such taxes.

Historians inform us that one of the chief causes of the destruction
of the Roman state was the alteration which Constantine introduced
into the finances, by substituting a universal poll-tax in lieu of
almost all the tithes, customs, and excises which formerly composed the
revenue of the empire. The people in all the provinces were so grinded
and oppressed by the publicans that they were glad to take refuge under
the conquering arms of the barbarians, whose dominion, as they had
fewer necessities and less art, was found preferable to the refined
tyranny of the Romans.

There is a prevailing opinion that all taxes, however levied, fall upon
the land at last. Such an opinion may be useful in Britain, by checking
the landed gentlemen, in whose hands our legislature is chiefly lodged,
and making them preserve great regard for trade and industry; but I
must confess that this principle, though first advanced by a celebrated
writer, has so little appearance of reason that were it not for his
authority it had never been received by anybody. Every man, to be sure,
is desirous of pushing off from himself the burden of any tax which
is imposed, and laying it upon others; but as every man has the same
inclination, and is upon the defensive, no set of men can be supposed
to prevail altogether in this contest. And why the landed gentleman
should be the victim of the whole, and should not be able to defend
himself as well as others are, I cannot readily imagine. All tradesmen,
indeed, would willingly prey upon him and divide him among them if they
could; but this inclination they always have, though no taxes were
levied; and the same methods by which he guards against the imposition
of tradesmen before taxes will serve him afterwards, and make them
share the burden with him. No labour in any commodities that are
exported can be very considerably raised in the price without losing
the foreign market; and as some part of almost every manufactory
is exported, this circumstance keeps the price of most species of
labour nearly the same after the imposition of taxes. I may add that it
has this effect upon the whole, for were any kind of labour paid beyond
its proportion all hands would flock to it, and would soon sink it to a
level with the rest.

I shall conclude this subject with observing that we have with
regard to taxes an instance of what frequently happens in political
institutions, that the consequence of things are diametrically opposite
to what we should expect on the first appearance. It is regarded as a
fundamental maxim of the Turkish Government that the Grand Seignior,
though absolute master of the lives and fortunes of each individual,
has no authority to impose a new tax; and every Ottoman prince who
has made such an attempt either has been obliged to retract, or has
found the fatal effects of his perseverance. One would imagine that
this prejudice or established opinion were the firmest barrier in the
world against oppression, yet it is certain that its effect is quite
contrary. The emperor, having no regular method of increasing his
revenue, must allow all the pashas and governors to oppress and abuse
the subjects, and these he squeezes after their return from their
government; whereas, if he could impose a new tax, like our European
princes, his interest would so far be united with that of his people
that he would immediately feel the bad effects of these disorderly
levies of money, and would find that a pound raised by general
imposition would have less pernicious effects than a shilling taken in
so unequal and arbitrary a manner.


[26] _Account of the Netherlands_, chap. vi.


It appears to have been the common practice of antiquity to make
provision in times of peace for the necessities of war, and to hoard
up treasures beforehand as the instruments either of conquest or
defence, without trusting to extraordinary imposts, much less to
borrowing, in times of disorder and confusion. Besides the immense sums
above mentioned​[27] which were amassed by Athens, and by the Ptolemies
and other successors of Alexander, we learn from Plato that the frugal
Lacedemonians had also collected a great treasure; and Arrian and
Plutarch​[28] specify the riches which Alexander got possession of on
the conquest of Susa and Ecbatana, and which were reserved, some of
them, from the time of Cyrus. If I remember right, the Scripture also
mentions the treasure of Hezekiah and the Jewish princes, as profane
history does that of Philip and Perseus, kings of Macedon. The ancient
republics of Gaul had commonly large sums in reserve. Every one knows
the treasure seized in Rome by Julius Cæsar during the civil wars,
and we find afterwards that the wiser emperors, Augustus, Tiberius,
Vespasian, Severus, etc., always discovered the prudent foresight of
saving great sums against any public exigency.

On the contrary, our modern expedient, which has become very general,
is to mortgage the public revenues, and to trust that posterity during
peace will pay off the encumbrances contracted during the preceding
war; and they, having before their eyes so good an example of their
wise fathers, have the same prudent reliance on their posterity, who at
last, from necessity more than choice, are obliged to place the same
confidence in a new posterity. But not to waste time in declaiming
against a practice which appears ruinous beyond the evidence of a
hundred demonstrations, it seems pretty apparent that the ancient
maxims are in this respect much more prudent than the modern; even
though the latter had been confined within some reasonable bounds, and
had ever, in any one instance, been attended with such frugality in
time of peace as to discharge the debts incurred by an expensive war.
For why should the case be so very different between the public and
an individual as to make us establish such different maxims of
conduct for each? If the funds of the former be greater, its necessary
expenses are proportionably larger; if its resources be more numerous,
they are not infinite; and as its frame should be calculated for a much
longer duration than the date of a single life, or even of a family,
it should embrace maxims, large, durable, and generous, agreeable to
the supposed extent of its existence. To trust to chances and temporary
expedients is indeed what the necessity of human affairs frequently
reduces it to, but whoever voluntarily depend on such resources have
not necessity but their own folly to accuse for their misfortunes when
any such befall them.

If the abuses of treasures be dangerous, either by engaging the state
in rash enterprises or making it neglect military discipline in
confidence of its riches, the abuses of mortgaging are more certain and
inevitable—poverty, impotence, and subjection to foreign powers.

According to modern policy, war is attended with every destructive
circumstance: loss of men, increase of taxes, decay of commerce,
dissipation of money, devastation by sea and land. According to ancient
maxims, the opening of the public treasure, as it produced an uncommon
affluence of gold and silver, served as a temporary encouragement to
industry, and atoned in some degree for the inevitable calamities of

What then shall we say to the new paradox, that public encumbrances
are, of themselves, advantageous, independent of the necessity of
contracting them; and that any state, even though it were not pressed
by a foreign enemy, could not possibly have embraced a wiser expedient
for promoting commerce and riches than to create funds, and debts, and
taxes without limitation? Discourses such as these might naturally
have passed for trials of wit among rhetoricians, like the panegyrics
on folly and a fever, on Busiris and Nero, had we not seen such absurd
maxims patronized by great ministers and by a whole party among us; and
these puzzling arguments (for they deserve not the name of specious),
though they could not be the foundation of Lord Orford’s
conduct, for he had more sense, served at least to keep his partisans
in countenance and perplex the understanding of the nation.

Let us examine the consequences of public debts, both in our domestic
management by their influence on commerce and industry, and in our
foreign transactions by their effect on wars and negotiations.

There is a word which is here in the mouth of everybody, and which I
find has also got abroad and is much employed by foreign writers​[29]
in imitation of the English—and this is “circulation.” This word serves
as an account of everything, and though I confess that I have sought
for its meaning in the present subject ever since I was a schoolboy,
I have never yet been able to discover it. What possible advantage is
there which the nation can reap by the easy transference of stock from
hand to hand? Or is there any parallel to be drawn from the circulation
of other commodities to that of chequer notes and India bonds? Where
a manufacturer has a quick sale of his goods to the merchant, the
merchant to the shopkeeper, the shopkeeper to his customers, this
enlivens industry and gives new encouragement to the first dealer or
the manufacturer and all his tradesmen, and makes them produce more
and better commodities of the same species. A stagnation is here
pernicious, wherever it happens, because it operates backwards, and
stops or benumbs the industrious hand in its production of what is
useful to human life. But what production we owe to Change-alley, or
even what consumption, except that of coffee, and pen, ink, and paper,
I have not yet learned; nor can one foresee the loss or decay of any
one beneficial commerce or commodity, though that place and all its
inhabitants were for ever buried in the ocean.

But though this term has never been explained by those who insist
so much on the advantages that result from a circulation, there
seems, however, to be some benefit of a similar kind arising from our
encumbrances—as, indeed, what human evil is there which is not
attended with some advantage? This we shall endeavour to explain, that
we may estimate the weight which we ought to allow it.

Public securities are with us become a kind of money, and pass as
readily at the current price as gold or silver. Wherever any profitable
undertaking offers itself, however expensive, there are never wanting
hands enough to embrace it; nor need a trader who has sums in the
public stocks fear to launch out into the most extensive trade, since
he is possessed of funds which will answer the most sudden demand
that can be made upon him. No merchant thinks it necessary to keep by
him any considerable cash. Bank-notes or India bonds, especially the
latter, serve all the same purposes; because he can dispose of them or
pledge them to a banker in a quarter of an hour; and at the same time
they are not idle, even when in his escritoire, but bring him in a
constant revenue. In short, our national debts furnish merchants with
a species of money that is continually multiplying in their hands, and
produces sure gain besides the profits of their commerce. This must
enable them to trade upon less profit. The small profit of the merchant
renders the commodity cheaper, causes a greater consumption, quickens
the labour of the common people, and helps to spread arts and industry
through the whole society.

There are also, we may observe, in England and in all states which have
both commerce and public debts, a set of men who are half merchants,
half stock-holders, and may be supposed willing to trade for small
profits; because commerce is not their principal or sole support, and
their revenues in the funds are a sure resource for themselves and
their families. Were there no funds great merchants would have no
expedient for realizing or securing any part of their profit but by
making purchases of land, and land has many disadvantages in comparison
of funds. Requiring more care and inspection, it divides the time and
attention of the merchant; upon any tempting offer or extraordinary
accident in trade, it is not so easily converted into money; and as it
attracts too much, both by the many natural pleasures it affords
and the authority it gives, it soon converts the citizen into the
country gentleman. More men, therefore, with large stocks and incomes,
may naturally be supposed to continue in trade where there are public
debts; and this, it must be owned, is of some advantage to commerce
by diminishing its profits, promoting circulation, and encouraging

But, in opposition to these two favourable circumstances, perhaps of no
very great importance, weigh the many disadvantages which attend our
public debts in the whole interior economy of the state; you will find
no comparison between the ill and the good which result from them.

First, it is certain that national debts cause a mighty confluence of
people and riches to the capital, by the great sums which are levied in
the provinces to pay the interest of those debts; and perhaps, too, by
the advantages in trade above mentioned, which they give the merchants
in the capital above the rest of the kingdom. The question is, whether,
in our case, it be for the public interest that so many privileges
should be conferred on London, which has already arrived at such an
enormous size and seems still increasing? Some men are apprehensive of
the consequences. For my part, I cannot forbear thinking that though
the head is undoubtedly too big for the body, yet that great city is so
happily situated that its excessive bulk causes less inconvenience than
even a smaller capital to a greater kingdom. There is more difference
between the prices of all provisions in Paris and Languedoc than
between those in London and Yorkshire.

Secondly, public stocks, being a kind of paper-credit, have all the
disadvantages attending that species of money. They banish gold and
silver from the most considerable commerce of the state, reduce them to
common circulation, and by that means render all provisions and labour
dearer than otherwise they would be.

Thirdly, the taxes which are levied to pay the interests of these debts
are apt to be a check upon industry, to heighten the price of
labour, and to be an oppression on the poorer sort.

Fourthly, as foreigners possess a share of our national funds, they
render the public in a manner tributary to them, and may in time
occasion the transport of our people and our industry.

Fifthly, the greatest part of public stock being always in the hands
of idle people, who live on their revenue, our funds give great
encouragement to a useless and inactive life.

But though the injury which arises to commerce and industry from our
public funds will appear, upon balancing the whole, very considerable,
it is trivial in comparison of the prejudice which results to the
state considered as a body politic, which must support itself in the
society of nations, and have various transactions with other states,
in wars and negotiations. The ill there is pure and unmixed, without
any favourable circumstance to atone for it, and it is an ill too of a
nature the highest and most important.

We have, indeed, been told that the public is no weaker upon account
of its debts, since they are mostly due among ourselves, and bring as
much property to one as they take from another. It is like transferring
money from the right hand to the left, which leaves the person neither
richer nor poorer than before. Such loose reasonings and specious
comparisons will always pass where we judge not upon principles. I ask,
is it possible, in the nature of things, to overburden a nation with
taxes, even where the sovereign resides among them? The very doubt
seems extravagant, since it is requisite in every commonwealth that
there be a certain proportion observed between the laborious and the
idle part of it. But if all our present taxes be mortgaged, must we not
invent new ones? and may not this matter be carried to a length that is
ruinous and destructive?

In every nation there are always some methods of levying money more
easy than others, agreeable to the way of living of the people and the
commodities they make use of. In Britain the excises upon malt and beer
afford a very large revenue, because the operations of malting
and brewing are very tedious, and are impossible to be concealed; and
at the same time, these commodities are not so absolutely necessary to
life as that the raising their price would very much affect the poorer
sort. These taxes being all mortgaged, what difficulty to find new
ones! what vexation and ruin of the poor!

Duties upon consumptions are more equal and easy than those upon
possessions. What a loss to the public that the former are all
exhausted, and that we must have recourse to the more grievous method
of levying taxes!

Were all the proprietors of land only stewards to the public, must not
necessity force them to practise all the arts of oppression used by
stewards, where the absence or negligence of the proprietor render them
secure against inquiry?

It will scarce be asserted that no bounds ought ever to be set to
national debts, and that the public would be no weaker were twelve or
fifteen shillings in the pound land-tax mortgaged, with the present
customs and excises. There is something therefore in the case beside
the mere transferring of property from one hand to another. In 500
years the posterity of those now in the coaches and of those upon the
boxes will probably have changed places, without affecting the public
by these revolutions.

Suppose the public once fairly brought to that condition to which it
is hastening with such amazing rapidity; suppose the land to be taxed
eighteen or nineteen shillings in the pound (for it can never bear the
whole twenty); suppose all the excises and customs to be screwed up
to the outmost which the nation can bear, without entirely losing its
commerce and industry; and suppose that all those funds are mortgaged
to perpetuity, and that the invention and wit of all our projectors
can find no new imposition which may serve as the foundation of a new
loan; and let us consider the necessary consequences of this situation.
Though the imperfect state of our political knowledge and the narrow
capacities of men make it difficult to foretell the effects
which will result from any untried measure, the seeds of ruin are here
scattered with such profusion as not to escape the eye of the most
careless observer.

In this unnatural state of society, the only persons who possess
any revenue beyond the immediate effects of their industry are the
stockholders, who draw almost all the rent of the land and houses,
besides the produce of all the customs and excises. These are men who
have no connections in the state, who can enjoy their revenue in any
part of the world in which they choose to reside, who will naturally
bury themselves in the capital, or in great cities, and who will sink
into the lethargy of a stupid and pampered luxury, without spirit,
ambition, or enjoyment. Adieu to all ideas of nobility, gentry, and
family. The stocks can be transferred in an instant, and being in
such a fluctuating state, will seldom be transmitted during three
generations from father to son. Or were they to remain ever so long
in one family, they convey no hereditary authority or credit to the
possessors; and by this means, the several ranks of men, which form
a kind of independent magistracy in a state, instituted by the hand
of nature, are entirely lost, and every man in authority derives his
influence from the commission alone of the sovereign. No expedient
remains for preventing or suppressing insurrections but mercenary
armies; no expedient at all remains for resisting tyranny; elections
are swayed by bribery and corruption alone; and the middle power
between king and people being totally removed, a horrible despotism
must infallibly prevail. The landholders, despised for their poverty
and hated for their oppressions, will be utterly unable to make any
opposition to it.

Though a resolution should be formed by the legislature never to impose
any tax which hurts commerce and discourages industry, it will be
impossible for men, in subjects of such extreme delicacy, to reason
so justly as never to be mistaken, or amidst difficulties so urgent,
never to be seduced from their resolution. The continual fluctuations
in commerce require continual alterations in the nature of the taxes,
which exposes the legislature every moment to the danger both
of wilful and involuntary error; and any great blow given to trade,
whether by injudicious taxes or by other accidents, throws the whole
system of the government into confusion.

But what expedient is the public now to fall upon, even supposing trade
to continue in the most flourishing condition, to support its foreign
wars and enterprises, and to defend its own honour and interests or
those of its allies? I do not ask how the public is to exert such a
prodigious power as it has maintained during our late wars, where we
have so much exceeded, not only our own natural strength, but even that
of the greatest empires. This extravagance is the abuse complained of,
as the source of all the dangers to which we are at present exposed.
But since we must still suppose great commerce and opulence to remain
even after every fund is mortgaged, those riches must be defended by
proportionable power, and whence is the public to derive the revenue
which supports it? It must plainly be from a continual taxation of
the annuitants, or, which is the same thing, from mortgaging anew
on every exigency a certain part of their annuity, and thus making
them contribute to their own defence and to that of the nation; but
the difficulties attending this system of policy will easily appear,
whether we suppose the king to have become absolute master or to
be still controlled by national councils, in which the annuitants
themselves must necessarily bear the principal sway.

If the prince has become absolute, as may naturally be expected from
this situation of affairs, it is so easy for him to increase his
exactions upon the annuitants, which amount only to the retaining
money in his own hands, that this species of property will soon lose
all its credit, and the whole income of every individual in the state
must lie entirely at the mercy of the sovereign—a degree of despotism
which no oriental monarchy has ever yet attained. If, on the contrary,
the consent of the annuitants be requisite for every taxation, they
will never be persuaded to contribute sufficiently even to the support
of government, as the diminution of their revenue must in that
case be very sensible, would not be disguised under the appearance of a
branch of excise or customs, and would not be shared by any other order
of the state, who are already supposed to be taxed to the utmost. There
are instances in some republics of a hundredth penny, and sometimes
of the fiftieth, being given to the support of the state; but this is
always an extraordinary exertion of power, and can never become the
foundation of a constant national defence. We have always found, where
a government has mortgaged all its revenues, that it necessarily sinks
into a state of languor, inactivity, and impotence.

Such are the inconveniences which may reasonably be foreseen of this
situation to which Great Britain is visibly tending, not to mention
the numberless inconveniences which cannot be foreseen, and which must
result from so monstrous a situation as that of making the public
the sole proprietor of land, besides investing it with every branch
of customs and excise which the fertile imagination of ministers and
projectors have been able to invent.

I must confess that there is a strange supineness, from long custom,
crept into all ranks of men with regard to public debts, not unlike
what divines so vehemently complain of with regard to their religious
doctrines. We all own that the most sanguine imagination cannot hope
either that this or any future ministry will be possessed of such
rigid and steady frugality as to make any considerable progress in the
payment of our debts, or that the situation of foreign affairs will,
for any long time, allow them leisure and tranquillity for such an
undertaking.​[30] What then is to become of us? Were we ever so good
Christians and ever so resigned to Providence, this, methinks, were
a curious question, even considered as a speculative one, and
what it might not be altogether impossible to form some conjectural
solution of. The events here will depend little upon the contingencies
of battles, negotiations, intrigues, and factions. There seems to be a
natural progress of things which may guide our reasoning. As it would
have required but a moderate share of prudence when we first began this
practice of mortgaging to have foretold, from the nature of men and
of ministers, that things would necessarily be carried to the length
we see, so now that they have at last happily reached it, it may not
be difficult to guess at the consequences. It must, indeed, be one
of these two events—either the nation must destroy public credit, or
public credit will destroy the nation. It is impossible they can both
subsist after the manner they have been hitherto managed, in this as
well as in some other nations.

There was indeed a scheme for the payment of our debts which was
proposed by an excellent citizen, Mr. Hutchinson, above thirty years
ago, and which was much approved of by some men of sense, but never
was likely to take effect. He asserted that there was a fallacy in
imagining that the public owed this debt, for that really every
individual owed a proportional share of it, and paid, in his taxes,
a proportional share of the interest, beside the expenses of levying
these taxes. Had we not better, then, says he, make a proportional
distribution of the debt among us, and each of us contribute a sum
suitable to his property, and by that means discharge at once all our
funds and public mortgages? He seems not to have considered that the
laborious poor pay a considerable part of the taxes by their annual
consumptions, though they could not advance at once a proportional
part of the sum required; not to mention that property in money and
stock in trade might easily be concealed or disguised, and that
visible property in lands and houses would really at last answer for
the whole—an inequality and oppression which never would be submitted
to. But though this project is never likely to take place, it is not
altogether improbable that when the nation become heartily sick of
their debts, and are cruelly oppressed by them, some daring projector
may arise with visionary schemes for their discharge. And as public
credit will begin, by that time, to be a little frail, the least touch
will destroy it, as happened in France; and in this manner it will die
of the doctor.​[31]

But it is more probable that the breach of national faith will be the
necessary effect of wars, defeats, misfortunes, and public calamities,
or even perhaps of victories and conquests. I must confess, when I
see princes and states fighting and quarrelling, amidst their debts,
funds, and public mortgages, it always brings to my mind a match of
cudgel-playing fought in a china-shop. How can it be expected that
sovereigns will spare a species of property which is pernicious to
themselves and to the public, when they have so little compassion
on lives and properties which are useful to both? Let the time
come (and surely it will come) when the new funds created for the
exigencies of the year are not subscribed to, and raise not the money
projected. Suppose either that the cash of the nation is exhausted,
or that our faith, which has hitherto been so ample, begins
to fail us; suppose that in this distress the nation is threatened
with an invasion; a rebellion is suspected or broken out at home; a
squadron cannot be equipped for want of pay, victuals, or repairs;
or even a foreign subsidy cannot be advanced—what must a prince or
minister do in such an emergence? The right of self-preservation is
unalienable in every individual, much more in every community; and
the folly of our statesmen must then be greater than the folly of
those who first contracted debt, or, what is more, than that of those
who trusted, or continue to trust this security, if these statesmen
have the means of safety in their hands and do not employ them. The
funds, created and mortgaged, will by that time bring in a large
yearly revenue, sufficient for the defence and security of the nation.
Money is perhaps lying in the exchequer, ready for the discharge of
the quarterly interest. Necessity calls, fear urges, reason exhorts,
compassion alone exclaims; the money will immediately be seized for
the current service—under the most solemn protestations, perhaps, of
being immediately replaced. But no more is requisite; the whole fabric,
already tottering, falls to the ground, and buries thousands in its
ruins. And this, I think, may be called the natural death of public
credit; for to this period it tends as naturally as an animal body to
its dissolution and destruction.​[32]

These two events supposed above are calamitous, but not the most
calamitous. Thousands are hereby sacrificed to the safety of millions;
but we are not without danger that the contrary event may take place,
and that millions may be sacrificed for ever to the temporary safety
of thousands.​[33] Our popular government perhaps will render it
difficult or dangerous for a minister to venture on so desperate an
expedient as that of a voluntary bankruptcy; and though the House of
Lords be altogether composed of the proprietors of lands, and the
House of Commons chiefly, and consequently neither of them can
be supposed to have great property in the funds, yet the connections
of the members may be so great with the proprietors as to render them
more tenacious of public faith than prudence, policy, or even justice,
strictly speaking, requires. And perhaps, too, our foreign enemies,
or rather enemy (for we have but one to dread) may be so politic as
to discover that our safety lies in despair, and may not therefore
show the danger open and barefaced till it be inevitable. The balance
of power in Europe, our grandfathers, our fathers, and we, have all
justly esteemed too unequal to be preserved without our attention and
assistance. But our children, weary with the struggle, and fettered
with encumbrances, may sit down secure and see their neighbours
oppressed and conquered, till at last they themselves and their
creditors lie both at the mercy of the conqueror. And this may properly
enough be denominated the violent death of our public credit.

These seem to be the events which are not very remote, and which reason
foresees as clearly almost as she can do anything that lies in the womb
of time. And though the ancients maintained that, in order to reach the
gift of prophecy, a certain divine fury or madness was requisite, one
may safely affirm that, in order to deliver such prophecies as these,
no more is necessary than merely to be in one’s senses, free from the
influence of popular madness and delusion.


[27] Essay _Of the Balance of Trade_.

[28] Plut. in _Vita Alex_. He makes these treasures amount to 80,000
talents, or about 15 millions sterling. Quintus Curtius (lib. 5, cap.
2) says that Alexander found in Susa above 50,000 talents.

[29] Melon, Du Tot, Law, in the pamphlets published in France.

[30] In times of peace and security, when alone it is possible to pay
debt, the moneyed interest are averse to receive partial payments,
which they know not how to dispose of to advantage, and the landed
interest are averse to continue the taxes requisite for that purpose.
Why therefore should a minister persevere in a measure so disagreeable
to all parties? For the sake, I suppose, of a posterity which he will
never see, or of a few reasonable, reflecting people whose united
interest perhaps will not be able to secure him the smallest borough
in England. It is not likely we shall ever find any minister so bad a
politician. With regard to these narrow, destructive maxims of politics
all ministers are expert enough.

[31] Some neighbouring states practise an easy expedient, by which they
lighten their public debts. The French have a custom (as the Romans
formerly had) of augmenting their money, and this the nation has been
so much familiarized to that it hurts not public credit, though it be
really cutting off at once, by an edict, so much of their debts. The
Dutch diminish the interest without the consent of their creditors;
or, which is the same thing, they arbitrarily tax the funds as well
as other property. Could we practise either of these methods, we need
never be oppressed by the national debt; and it is not impossible but
one of these, or some other method, may, at all adventures, be tried,
on the augmentation of our encumbrances and difficulties. But people
in this country are so good reasoners upon whatever regards their
interest, that such a practice will deceive nobody, and public credit
will probably tumble at once by so dangerous a trial.

[32] So great dupes are the generality of mankind, that notwithstanding
such a violent shock to public credit as a voluntary bankruptcy in
England would occasion, it would not probably be long ere credit would
again revive in as flourishing a condition as before. The present
King of France, during the late war, borrowed money at lower interest
than ever his grandfather did, and as low as the British Parliament,
comparing the natural rate of interest in both kingdoms. And though
men are commonly more governed by what they have seen than by what
they foresee, with whatever certainty, yet promises, protestations,
fair appearances, with the allurements of present interest, have such
powerful influence as few are able to resist. Mankind are, in all ages,
caught by the same baits. The same tricks, played over and over again,
still trepan them. The heights of popularity and patriotism are still
the beaten road to power and tyranny; flattery to treachery; standing
armies to arbitrary government; and the glory of God to the temporal
interest of the clergy. The fear of an everlasting destruction of
credit, allowing it to be an evil, is a needless bugbear. A prudent
man, in reality, would rather lend to the public immediately after
they had taken a sponge to their debts, than at present; as much as
an opulent knave, even though one could not force him to pay, is a
preferable debtor to an honest bankrupt; for the former, in order to
carry on business, may find it his interest to discharge his debts,
where they are not exorbitant. The latter has it not in his power.
The reasoning of Tacitus (_Hist._ lib. 3), as it is eternally true,
is very applicable to our present case: “Sed vulgus ad magnitudinem
beneficiorum aderat: Stultissimus quisque pecuniis mercabatur: Apud
sapientes cassa habebantur, quæ neque dari neque accipi, salva
republica, poterant.” The public is a debtor, whom no man can oblige to
pay. The only check which the creditors have on it is the interest of
preserving credit; an interest which may easily be overbalanced by a
very great debt, and by a difficult and extraordinary emergence, even
supposing that credit irrecoverable. Not to mention that a present
necessity often forces states into measures which are, strictly
speaking, against their interest.

[33] I have heard it has been computed that all the creditors of the
public, natives and foreigners, amount only to 17,000. These make a
figure at present on their income; but in case of a public bankruptcy
would in an instant become the lowest, as well as the most wretched of
the people. The dignity and authority of the landed gentry and nobility
is much better rooted, and would render the contention very unequal,
if ever we come to that extremity. One would incline to assign to this
event a very near period, such as half a century, had not our fathers’
prophecies of this kind been already found fallacious by the duration
of our public credit so much beyond all reasonable expectation. When
the astrologers in France were every year foretelling the death of
Henry IV., “These fellows,” says he, “must be right at last.” We shall
therefore be more cautious than to assign any precise date, and shall
content ourselves with pointing out the event in general.


I shall observe three remarkable customs in three celebrated
governments, and shall conclude from the whole that all general maxims
in politics ought to be established with great reserve, and that
irregular and extraordinary appearances are frequently discovered
in the moral as well as in the physical world. The former
perhaps can we better account for after they happen, from springs and
principles of which every one has within himself, or from obvious
observation, the strongest assurance and conviction; but it is often
fully as impossible for human prudence beforehand to foresee and
foretell them.

I. One would think it essential to every supreme council or assembly
which debates, that entire liberty of speech should be granted to
every member, and that all motions or reasonings should be received
which can any way tend to illustrate the point under deliberation.
One would conclude, with still greater assurance, that after a motion
was made, which was voted and approved by that assembly in which the
legislative power is lodged, the member who made the motion must for
ever be exempted from further trial or inquiry. But no political maxim
can at first sight appear more undisputable than that he must at least
be secured from all inferior jurisdiction, and that nothing less than
the same supreme legislative assembly, in their subsequent meetings,
could render him accountable for those motions and harangues which they
had before approved of. But these axioms, however irrefragable they may
appear, have all failed in the Athenian government, from causes, and
principles too, which appear almost inevitable.

By the γραφη παρανομων, or “indictment of illegality” (though it has
not been remarked by antiquaries or commentators), any man was tried
and punished by any common court of judicature for any law which
had passed upon his motion in the assembly of the people, if that
law appeared to the court unjust or prejudicial to the public. Thus
Demosthenes, finding that ship-money was levied irregularly, and that
the poor bore the same burden as the rich in equipping the galleys,
corrected this inequality by a very useful law, which proportioned the
expense to the revenue and income of each individual. He moved for
this law in the assembly, he proved its advantages,​[34] he
convinced the people, the only legislature in Athens, the law passed
and was carried into execution; and yet he was tried in a criminal
court for that law upon the complaint of the rich, who resented the
alteration he had introduced into the finances. He was indeed acquitted
upon proving anew the usefulness of his law.

Ctesiphon moved in the assembly of the people that particular honours
should be conferred on Demosthenes, as on a citizen affectionate and
useful to the commonwealth. The people, convinced of this truth, voted
those honours; yet was Ctesiphon tried by the γραφη παρανομων. It was
asserted, among other topics, that Demosthenes was not a good citizen,
nor affectionate to the commonwealth, and the orator was called upon to
defend his friend, and consequently himself, which he executed by that
sublime piece of eloquence that has ever since been the admiration of

After the battle of Chæronea a law was passed, upon the motion
of Hyperides, giving liberty to slaves and enrolling them in the
troops.​[35] On account of this law the orator was afterwards tried
by the indictment above mentioned, and defended himself, among other
topics, by that stroke celebrated by Plutarch and Longinus. “It was not
I,” said he, “that moved for this law: it was the necessities of war;
it was the battle of Chæronea.” The orations of Demosthenes abound with
many instances of trials of this nature, and prove clearly that nothing
was more commonly practised.

The Athenian Democracy was such a tumultuary government as we can
scarce form a notion of in the present age of the world. The whole
collective body of the people voted in every law without any limitation
of property, without any distinction of rank, without control of any
magistracy or senate;​[36] and consequently without regard to
order, justice, or prudence. The Athenians soon became sensible of the
mischiefs attending this constitution, but being averse to the checking
themselves by any rule or restriction, they resolved at least to check
their demagogues or counsellors by the fear of future punishment
and inquiry. They accordingly instituted this remarkable law, a law
esteemed so essential to their government that Æschines insists on
it as a known truth, that were it abolished or neglected it were
impossible for the Democracy to subsist.​[37]

The people feared not any ill consequence to liberty from the authority
of the criminal courts, because these were nothing but very numerous
juries, chosen by lot from among the people; and they considered
themselves justly as in a state of perpetual pupilage, where they had
an authority, after they came to the use of reason, not only to retract
and control whatever had been determined, but to punish any guardian
for measures which they had embraced by his persuasion. The same law
had place in Thebes, and for the same reason.

It appears to have been a usual practice in Athens, on the
establishment of any law esteemed very useful or popular, to prohibit
for ever its abrogation and repeal. Thus the demagogue who diverted
all the public revenues to the support of shows and spectacles, made
it criminal so much as to move for a repeal of this law; thus Leptines
moved for a law, not only to recall all the immunities formerly
granted, but to deprive the people for the future of the power of
granting any more; thus all bills of attainder were forbid, or laws
that affected one Athenian without extending to the whole
commonwealth. These absurd clauses, by which the legislature vainly
attempted to bind itself for ever, proceeded from a universal sense of
the levity and inconstancy of the people.

II. A wheel within a wheel, such as we observe in the German Empire, is
considered by Lord Shaftesbury​[38] as an absurdity in politics; but
what must we say to two equal wheels which govern the same political
machine without any mutual check, control, or subordination, and yet
preserve the greatest harmony and concord? To establish two distinct
legislatures, each of which possesses full and absolute authority
within itself, and stands in no need of the other’s assistance,
in order to give validity to its acts, this may appear beforehand
altogether impracticable as long as men are actuated by the passions
of ambition, emulation, and avarice, which have been hitherto their
chief governing principles. And should I assert that the state I
have in my eye was divided into two distinct factions, each of which
predominated in a distinct legislature, and yet produced no clashing in
these independent powers, the supposition may appear almost incredible;
and if, to augment the paradox, I should affirm that this disjointed,
irregular government was the most active, triumphant, and illustrious
commonwealth that ever yet appeared on the stage of the world, I
should certainly be told that such a political chimera was as absurd
as any vision of the poets. But there is no need for searching long in
order to prove the reality of the foregoing suppositions, for this was
actually the case with the Roman republic.

The legislative power was there lodged in the _comitia centuriata_
and _comitia tributa_. In the former, it is well known, the people
voted according to their census; so that when the first class was
unanimous, though it contained not perhaps the hundredth part of the
commonwealth, it determined the whole, and, with the authority of the
senate, established a law. In the latter, every vote was alike; and as
the authority of the senate was not there requisite, the lower
people entirely prevailed and gave law to the whole state. In all party
divisions, at first between the Patricians and Plebeians, afterwards
between the nobles and the people, the interest of the aristocracy was
predominant in the first legislature, that of the democracy in the
second. The one could always destroy what the other had established;
nay, the one by a sudden and unforeseen motion might take the start
of the other and totally annihilate its rival by a vote, which, from
the nature of the constitution, had the full authority of a law. But
no such contest or struggle is observed in the history of Rome: no
instance of a quarrel between these two legislatures, though many
between the parties that governed in each. Whence arose this concord,
which may seem so extraordinary?

The legislature established at Rome by the authority of Servius Tullius
was the _comitia centuriata_, which, after the expulsion of the kings,
rendered the government for some time altogether aristocratical.
But the people, having numbers and force on their side, and being
elated with frequent conquests and victories in their foreign wars,
always prevailed when pushed to extremities, and first extorted from
the senate the magistracy of the tribunes, and then the legislative
power of the _comitia tributa_. It then behoved the nobles to be more
careful than ever not to provoke the people, for beside the force
which the latter were always possessed of, they had now got possession
of legal authority, and could instantly break in pieces any order or
institution which directly opposed them. By intrigue, by influence, by
money, by combination, and by the respect paid their character, the
nobles might often prevail and direct the whole machine of government;
but had they openly set their _comitia centuriata_ in opposition to
the _tributa_, they had soon lost the advantage of that institution,
together with their consuls, prætors, ediles, and all the magistrates
elected by it. But the _comitia tributa_, not having the same reason
for respecting the _centuriata_, frequently repealed laws favourable
to the aristocracy; they limited the authority of the nobles,
protected the people from oppression, and controlled the actions of
the senate and magistracy. The _centuriata_ found it convenient always
to submit; and though equal in authority, yet being inferior in power,
durst never directly give any shock to the other legislature, either by
repealing its laws or establishing laws, which, it foresaw, would soon
be repealed by it.

No instance is found of any opposition or struggle between these
_comitia_, except one slight attempt of this kind mentioned by Appian
in the third book of his Civil Wars. Mark Antony, resolving to deprive
Decimus Brutus of the government of Cisalpine Gaul, railed in the
forum, and called one of the _comitia_ in order to prevent the meeting
of the other which had been ordered by the senate; but affairs were
then fallen into such confusion, and the Roman constitution was so near
its final dissolution, that no inference can be drawn from such an
expedient. This contest, besides, was founded more on form than party.
It was the senate who ordered the _comitia tributa_ that they might
obstruct the meeting of the _centuriata_, which, by the constitution,
or at least forms of the government, could alone dispose of provinces.

Cicero was recalled by the _comitia centuriata_, though banished by
the _tributa_—that is, by a _plebiscitum_. But his banishment, we may
observe, never was considered as a legal deed, arising from the free
choice and inclination of the people. It was always ascribed to the
violence alone of Clodius, and to the disorders introduced by him into
the government.

III. The third custom which we proposed to observe regards England, and
though it be not so important as those which we have pointed out in
Athens and Rome, it is no less singular and remarkable. It is a maxim
in politics which we readily admit as undisputed and universal, that
a power, however great, when granted by law to an eminent magistrate
is not so dangerous to liberty as an authority, however considerable,
which he acquires from violence and usurpation; for, besides that
the law always limits every power which it bestows, the very
receiving it as a concession establishes the authority whence it is
derived and preserves the harmony of the constitution. By the same
right that one prerogative is assumed without law another may also
be claimed, and another with still greater facility; while the first
usurpations both serve as precedents to the following, and give force
to maintain them. Hence the heroism of Hampden, who sustained the whole
violence of royal prosecution rather than pay a tax of twenty shillings
not imposed by Parliament; hence the care of all English patriots to
guard against the first encroachments of the crown, and hence alone the
existence at this day of English liberty.

There is, however, one occasion where the Parliament has departed from
this maxim, and this is in the pressing of seamen. The exercise of an
illegal power is here tacitly permitted in the crown, and though it has
frequently been under deliberation how that power might be rendered
legal and granted under proper restrictions to the sovereign, no safe
expedient could ever be proposed for that purpose, and the danger
to liberty always appeared greater from law than from usurpation.
While this power is exercised to no other end than to man the Navy
men willingly submit to it from a sense of its use and necessity, and
the sailors, who are alone affected by it, find nobody to support
them in claiming the rights and privileges which the law grants
without distinction to all English subjects. But were this power on
any occasion made an instrument of faction or ministerial tyranny,
the opposite faction, and indeed all lovers of their country, would
immediately take the alarm and support the injured party. The liberty
of Englishmen would be asserted; juries would be implacable; and the
tools of tyranny acting both against law and equity would meet with the
severest vengeance. On the other hand, were the Parliament to grant
such an authority, they would probably fall into one of these two
inconveniences: they would either bestow it under so many restrictions
as would make it lose its effects by cramping the authority of the
crown, or they would render it so large and comprehensive as might give
occasion to great abuses, for which we could in that case have
no remedy. The very illegality of the power at present prevents its
abuses, by affording so easy a remedy against them.

I pretend not by this reasoning to exclude all possibility of
contriving a register for seamen, which might man the Navy without
being dangerous to liberty. I only observe that no satisfactory scheme
of that nature has yet been proposed. Rather than adopt any project
hitherto invented, we continue a practice seemingly the most absurd and
unaccountable. Authority, in times of full internal peace and concord,
is armed against law. A continued and open usurpation of the crown is
permitted amidst the greatest jealousy and watchfulness in the people;
nay, proceeding from those very principles, liberty, in a country of
the highest liberty, is left entirely to its own defence without any
countenance or protection; the wild state of nature is renewed in one
of the most civilized societies of mankind; and great violences and
disorders among the people, the most human and the best-natured, are
committed with impunity; while the one party pleads obedience to the
supreme magistrate, the other the sanction of fundamental laws.


[34] His harangue for it is still extant: περι Συμμοριας.

[35] Plutarchus in _vita decem oratorum_. Demosthenes gives a different
account of this law. (_Contra Aristogiton, Orat. II._) He says that its
purport was to render the ατιμοι επιτιμοι, or to restore the privilege
of bearing offices to those who had been declared incapable. Perhaps
these were both clauses of the same law.

[36] The senate of the Bean was only a less numerous mob chosen by lot
from among the people, and their authority was not great.

[37] _In Ctesiphontem._ It is remarkable that the first step after the
dissolution of the Democracy by Critias and the Thirty was to annul the
γραφη παρανομων, as we learn from Demosthenes κατα Τιμοκ. The orator
in this oration gives us the words of the law establishing the γραφη
παρανομων, p. 297, _ex edit._ _Aldi_. And he accounts for it from the
same principles we here reason upon.

[38] Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour, part 3, § 2.


There is very little ground, either from reason or experience, to
conclude the universe eternal or incorruptible. The continual and
rapid motion of matter, the violent revolutions with which every part
is agitated, the changes remarked in the heavens, the plain
traces as well as tradition of a universal deluge,—all these prove
strongly the mortality of this fabric of the world, and its passage,
by corruption or dissolution, from one state or order to another. It
must therefore, as well as each individual form which it contains,
have its infancy, youth, manhood, and old age; and it is probable that
in all these variations man, equally with every animal and vegetable,
will partake. In the flourishing age of the world it may be expected
that the human species should possess greater vigour both of mind
and body, more prosperous health, higher spirits, longer life, and
a stronger inclination and power of generation. But if the general
system of things, and human society of course, have any such gradual
revolutions, they are too slow to be discernible in that short period
which is comprehended by history and tradition. Stature and force of
body, length of life, even courage and extent of genius, seem hitherto
to have been naturally in all ages pretty much the same. The arts and
sciences, indeed, have flourished in one period and have decayed in
another; but we may observe that at the time when they rose to greatest
perfection among one people they were perhaps totally unknown to all
the neighbouring nations, and though they universally decayed in one
age, yet in a succeeding generation they again revived and diffused
themselves over the world. As far, therefore, as observation reaches
there is no universal difference discernible in the human species,
and though it were allowed that the universe, like an animal
body, had a natural progress from infancy to old age; yet, as it must
still be uncertain whether at present it be advancing to its point of
perfection or declining from it, we cannot thence presuppose any decay
in human nature.​[40] To prove, therefore, or account for the greater
populousness of antiquity by the imaginary youth or vigour of the world
will scarcely be admitted by any just reasoner; these general physical
causes ought entirely to be excluded from that question.

There are indeed some more particular physical causes of great
importance. Diseases are mentioned in antiquity which are almost
unknown to modern medicine, and new diseases have arisen and propagated
themselves of which there are no traces in ancient history. And in
this particular we may observe, upon comparison, that the disadvantage
is very much on the side of the moderns. Not to mention some others
of less importance, the smallpox commits such ravages as would almost
alone account for the great superiority ascribed to ancient times.
The tenth or the twelfth part of mankind destroyed every generation
should make a vast difference, it may be thought, in the numbers of the
people; and when joined to venereal distempers, a new plague diffused
everywhere, this disease is perhaps equivalent, by its constant
operation, to the three great scourges of mankind—war, pestilence,
and famine. Were it certain, therefore, that ancient times were more
populous than the present, and could no moral causes be assigned for so
great a change, these physical causes alone, in the opinion of many,
would be sufficient to give us satisfaction on that head.

But is it certain that antiquity was so much more populous as is
pretended? The extravagancies of Vossius with regard to this subject
are well known; but an author of much greater genius and discernment
has ventured to affirm that, according to the best computations which
these subjects will admit of, there are not now on the face of the
earth the fiftieth part of mankind which existed in the time of Julius
Cæsar. It may easily be observed that the comparisons in this case
must be very imperfect, even though we confine ourselves to the scene
of ancient history—Europe and the nations about the Mediterranean. We
know not exactly the numbers of any European kingdom, or even city,
at present; how can we pretend to calculate those of ancient cities
and states where historians have left us such imperfect traces? For
my part, the matter appears to me so uncertain that, as I intend to
throw together some reflections on that head, I shall intermingle the
inquiry concerning causes with that concerning facts, which ought never
to be admitted where the facts can be ascertained with any tolerable
assurance. We shall first consider whether it be probable, from what
we know of the situation of society in both periods, that antiquity
must have been more populous; secondly, whether in reality it was so.
If I can make it appear that the conclusion is not so certain as is
pretended in favour of antiquity, it is all I aspire to.

In general we may observe that the question with regard to the
comparative populousness of ages or kingdoms implies very important
consequences, and commonly determines concerning the preference of
their whole police, their manners, and the constitution of their
government. For as there is in all men, both male and female, a desire
and power of generation more active than is ever universally exerted,
the restraints which they lie under must proceed from some difficulties
in their situation, which it belongs to a wise legislature carefully
to observe and remove. Almost every man who thinks he can maintain a
family will have one, and the human species at this rate of propagation
would more than double every generation. How fast do mankind
multiply in every colony or new settlement, where it is an easy
matter to provide for a family, and where men are nowise straightened
or confined as in long established governments? History tells us
frequently of plagues which have swept away the third or fourth part of
a people; yet in a generation or two the destruction was not perceived,
and the society had again acquired their former number. The lands which
were cultivated, the houses built, the commodities raised, the riches
acquired, enabled the people who escaped immediately to marry and to
rear families, which supplied the place of those who had perished.​[41]
And for a like reason every wise, just, and mild government, by
rendering the condition of its subjects easy and secure, will always
abound most in people, as well as in commodities and riches. A country,
indeed, whose climate and soil are fitted for vines will naturally
be more populous than one which is only fitted for pasturage; but if
everything else be equal, it seems natural to expect that wherever
there are most happiness and virtue and the wisest institutions, there
will also be most people.

The question, therefore, concerning the populousness of ancient and
modern times being allowed of great importance, it will be requisite,
if we would bring it to some determination, to compare both the
domestic and political situation of these two periods, in order to
judge of the facts by their moral causes, which is the first view in
which we proposed to consider them.

The chief difference between the domestic economy of the ancients
and that of the moderns consists in the practice of slavery which
prevailed among the former, and which has been abolished for some
centuries throughout the greater part of Europe. Some passionate
admirers of the ancients and zealous partisans of civil liberty
(for these sentiments, as they are both of them in the main extremely
just, are found to be almost inseparable) cannot forbear regretting
the loss of this institution; and whilst they brand all submission
to the government of a single person with the harsh denomination of
slavery, they would gladly reduce the greatest part of mankind to
real slavery and subjection. But to one who considers coolly on the
subject it will appear that human nature in general really enjoys
more liberty at present, in the most arbitrary governments of Europe,
than it ever did during the most flourishing period of ancient times.
As much as submission to a petty prince, whose dominions extend not
beyond a single city, is more grievous than obedience to a great
monarch, so much is domestic slavery more cruel and oppressive than
any civil subjection whatsoever. The more the master is removed from
us in place and rank the greater liberty we enjoy, the less are our
actions inspected and controlled, and the fainter that cruel comparison
becomes between our own subjection and the freedom and even dominion
of another. The remains that are found of slavery in the American
colonies and among some European nations would never surely create a
desire of rendering it more universal. The little humanity commonly
observed in persons accustomed from their infancy to exercise so great
authority over their fellow-creatures and to trample upon human nature
were sufficient alone to disgust us with that authority. Nor can a more
probable reason be given for the severe, I might say barbarous manners
of ancient times, than the practice of domestic slavery, by which
every man of rank was rendered a petty tyrant and educated amidst the
flattery, submission, and low debasement of his slaves.

According to the ancient practice, all checks were on the inferior, to
restrain him to the duty of submission; none on the superior, to engage
him to the reciprocal duties of gentleness and humanity. In modern
times a bad servant finds not easily a good master, nor a bad master
a good servant, and the checks are mutual, suitable to the
inviolable and eternal laws of reason and equity.

The custom of exposing old, useless, or sick slaves in an island of the
Tiber, there to starve, seems to have been pretty common in Rome, and
whoever recovered after having been so exposed had his liberty given
him by an edict of the Emperor Claudius, where it was likewise forbid
to kill any slave merely for old age or sickness. But supposing that
this edict was strictly obeyed, would it better the domestic treatment
of slaves or render their lives much more comfortable? We may imagine
what others would practise when it was the professed maxim of the
elder Cato to sell his superannuated slaves for any price rather than
maintain what he esteemed a useless burden.

The _ergastula_, or dungeons, where slaves in chains were forced to
work, were very common all over Italy. Columella advises that they be
always built under ground, and recommends it as the duty of a careful
overseer to call over every day the names of these slaves, like the
mustering of a regiment or ship’s company, in order to know presently
when any of them had deserted. A proof of the frequency of these
_ergastula_ and of the great number of slaves usually confined in them.

A chained slave for a porter was usual in Rome, as appears from Ovid
and other authors. Had not these people shaken off all sense of
compassion towards that unhappy part of their species, would they have
presented all their friends at the first entrance with such an image of
the severity of the master and misery of the slave?

Nothing so common in all trials, even of civil causes, as to call for
the evidence of slaves, which was always extorted by the most exquisite
torments. Demosthenes says that where it was possible to produce for
the same fact either freemen or slaves as witnesses, the judges always
preferred the torturing of slaves as a more certain and infallible

Seneca draws a picture of that disorderly luxury which changes day
into night and night into day, and inverts every stated hour of every
office in life. Among other circumstances, such as displacing the meals
and times of bathing, he mentions that regularly about the third hour
of the night the neighbours of one who indulges this false refinement
hear the noise of whips and lashes, and upon inquiry find that he is
then taking an account of the conduct of his servants and giving them
due correction and discipline. This is not remarked as an instance of
cruelty, but only of disorder, which, even in actions the most usual
and methodical, changes the fixed hours that an established custom had
assigned them.​[43]

But our present business is only to consider the influence of slavery
on the populousness of a state. It is pretended that in this particular
the ancient practice had infinitely the advantage, and was the chief
cause of that extreme populousness which is supposed in those times.
At present all masters discourage the marrying of their male servants,
and admit not by any means the marriage of the female, who are then
supposed altogether incapacitated for their service; but where the
property of the servants is lodged in the master, their marriage
and fertility form his riches, and bring him a succession of slaves
that supply the place of those whom age and infirmity have
disabled. He encourages, therefore, their propagation as much as that
of his cattle, rears the young with the same care, and educates them
to some art or calling, which may render them more useful or valuable
to him. The opulent are, by this policy, interested in the being at
least, though not the well-being of the poor; and enrich themselves by
increasing the number and industry of those who are subjected to them.
Each man, being a sovereign in his own family, has the same interest
with regard to it as the prince with regard to the state; and has not,
like the prince, any opposite motive of ambition or vainglory which may
lead him to depopulate his little sovereignty. All of it is, at all
times, under his eye, and he has leisure to inspect the most minute
detail of the marriage and education of his subjects.​[44]

Such are the consequences of domestic slavery, according to the
first aspect and appearance of things; but if we enter more deeply
into the subject, we shall perhaps find reason to retract our hasty
determinations. The comparison is shocking between the management
of human creatures and that of cattle; but being extremely just
when applied to the present subject, it may be proper to trace the
consequences of it. At the capital, near all great cities, in all
populous, rich, industrious provinces, few cattle are bred. Provisions,
lodging, attendance, labour are there dear, and men find better their
account in buying the cattle, after they come to a certain age, from
the remoter and cheaper countries. These are consequently the only
breeding countries for cattle; and by a parity of reason, for men too,
when the latter are put on the same footing with the former.
To rear a child in London till he could be serviceable would cost much
dearer than to buy one of the same age from Scotland or Ireland, where
he had been raised in a cottage, covered with rags, and fed on oatmeal
or potatoes. Those who had slaves, therefore, in all the richer or more
populous countries would discourage the pregnancy of the females, and
either prevent or destroy the birth. The human species would perish in
those places where it ought to increase the fastest, and a perpetual
recruit be needed from all the poorer and more desert provinces. Such a
continued drain would tend mightily to depopulate the state, and render
great cities ten times more destructive than with us, where every man
is master of himself, and provides for his children from the powerful
instinct of nature—not the calculations of sordid interest. If London
at present, without increasing, needs a yearly recruit from the country
of 5000 people, as is commonly computed, what must it require if the
greatest part of the tradesmen and common people were slaves, and were
hindered from breeding by their avaricious masters?

All ancient authors tell us that there was a perpetual flux of slaves
to Italy from the remoter provinces, particularly Syria, Cilicia,​[45]
Cappadocia, and the Lesser Asia, Thrace, and Egypt; yet the number
of people did not increase in Italy, and writers complain of the
continual decay of industry and agriculture. Where then is that extreme
fertility of the Roman slaves which is commonly supposed? So far from
multiplying, they could not, it seems, so much as keep up the stock
without immense recruits. And though great numbers were continually
manumitted and converted into Roman citizens, the numbers even of these
did not increase till the freedom of the city was communicated to
foreign provinces.

The term for a slave born and bred in the family was _verna_;​[46] and
these slaves seem to have been entitled by custom to privileges and
indulgences beyond others—a sufficient reason why the masters would
not be fond of rearing many of that kind.​[47] Whoever is acquainted
with the maxims of our planters will acknowledge the justness of this

Atticus is much praised by his historian for the care which he took
in recruiting his family from the slaves born in it.​[49] May we not
thence infer that that practice was not then very common?

The names of slaves in the Greek comedies—Syrus, Mysus, Geta, Thrax,
Davus, Lydus, Phyrx, etc., afford a presumption that at Athens, at
least, most of the slaves were imported from foreign nations. The
Athenians, says Strabo, gave to their slaves either the names of the
nations whence they were bought, as Lydus, Syrus; or the names that
were most common among those nations, as Manes or Midas to a Phrygian,
Tibias to a Paphlagonian.

Demosthenes, after having mentioned a law which forbid any man to
strike the slave of another, praises the humanity of this law, and adds
that if the barbarians from whom slaves were bought had information
that their countrymen met with such gentle treatment, they would
entertain a great esteem for the Athenians. Isocrates, too, insinuates
that the slaves of the Greeks were generally or very commonly
barbarians. Aristotle, in his _Politics_, plainly supposes that a slave
is always a foreigner. The ancient comic writers represented the slaves
as speaking a barbarous language. This was an imitation of nature.

It is well known that Demosthenes, in his nonage, had been defrauded
of a large fortune by his tutors, and that afterwards he recovered,
by a prosecution of law, the value of his patrimony. His orations on
that occasion still remain, and contain a very exact detail of the
whole substance left by his father, in money, merchandise, houses,
and slaves, together with the value of each particular. Among the
rest were 52 slaves, handicraftsmen—viz., 32 sword-cutlers and 20
cabinet-makers,​[50] all males; not a word of any wives, children,
or family, which they certainly would have had had it been a
common custom at Athens to breed from the slaves; and the value of the
whole must have depended very much on that circumstance. No female
slaves are even so much as mentioned, except some housemaids who
belonged to his mother. This argument has great force, if it be not
altogether decisive.

Consider this passage of Plutarch, speaking of the elder Cato:—“He
had a great number of slaves, whom he took care to buy at the sales
of prisoners of war; and he chose them young, that they might easily
be accustomed to any diet or manner of life, and be instructed in any
business or labour, as men teach anything to young dogs or horses. And
esteeming love the chief source of all disorders, he allowed the male
slaves to have a commerce with the female in his family, upon paying a
certain sum for this privilege; but he strictly forbade all intrigues
out of his family.” Are there any symptoms in this narration of that
care which is supposed in the ancients, of the marriage and propagation
of their slaves? If that was a common practice, founded on general
interest, it would surely have been embraced by Cato, who was a great
economist, and lived in times when the ancient frugality and simplicity
of manners were still in credit and reputation.

It is expressly remarked by the writers of the Roman law that scarce
any ever purchase slaves with a view of breeding from them.​[51]

Our lackeys and housemaids, I own, do not serve much to multiply
their species; but the ancients, besides those who attended on their
person, had all their labour performed by slaves, who lived, many of
them, in their family; and some great men possessed to the number of
10,000. If there be any suspicion, therefore, that this institution was
unfavourable to propagation (and the same reason, at least in part,
holds with regard to ancient slaves as well as modern servants), how
destructive must slavery have proved!

History mentions a Roman nobleman who had 400 slaves under the same
roof with him; and having been assassinated at home by the furious
revenge of one of them, the law was executed with rigour, and all
without exception were put to death. Many other Roman noblemen had
families equally, or more numerous, and I believe every one will allow
that this would scarcely be practicable were we to suppose all the
slaves married and the females to be breeders.​[52]

So early as the poet Hesiod married slaves, whether male or female,
were esteemed very inconvenient. How much more where families had
increased to such an enormous size, as in Rome, and where simplicity of
manners was banished from all ranks of people?

Xenophon in his _Economics_, where he gives directions for the
management of a farm, recommends a strict care and attention of
laying the male and the female slaves at a distance from each other.
He seems not to suppose that they are ever married. The only slaves
among the Greeks that appear to have continued their own breed were the
Helotes, who had houses apart, and were more the slaves of the public
than of individuals.

The same author tells us that Nicias’s overseer, by an agreement with
his master, was obliged to pay him an obolus a day for each slave,
besides maintaining them and keeping up the number. Had the ancient
slaves been all breeders, this last circumstance of the contract had
been superfluous.

The ancients talk so frequently of a fixed, stated portion of
provisions assigned to each slave, that we are naturally led to
conclude that slaves lived almost all single, and received that portion
as a kind of board-wages.

The practice, indeed, of marrying the slaves seems not to have been
very common even among the country-labourers, where it is more
naturally to be expected. Cato, enumerating the slaves requisite
to labour a vineyard of a hundred acres, makes them to amount to
fifteen—the overseer and his wife (_villicus_ and _villica_) and
thirteen male slaves; for an olive plantation of 240 acres, the
overseer and his wife and eleven male slaves; and so in proportion to a
greater or less plantation or vineyard.

Varro, citing this passage of Cato, allows his computation to be just
in every respect except the last. “For as it is requisite,” says he,
“to have an overseer and his wife, whether the vineyard or plantation
be great or small, this must alter the exactness of the proportion.”
Had Cato’s computation been erroneous in any other respect it had
certainly been corrected by Varro, who seems fond of discovering so
trivial an inaccuracy.

The same author, as well as Columella, recommends it as requisite to
give a wife to the overseer in order to attach him the more strongly to
his master’s service. This was therefore a peculiar indulgence granted
to a slave in whom so great a confidence was reposed.

In the same place Varro mentions it as a useful precaution not to buy
too many slaves from the same nations, lest they beget factions and
seditions in the family; a presumption that in Italy the greatest part,
even of the country-labouring slaves—for he speaks of no other—were
bought from the remoter provinces. All the world knows that the
family-slaves in Rome, who were instruments of show and luxury, were
commonly imported from the east. “Hoc profecere,” says Pliny, speaking
of the jealous care of masters, “mancipiorum legiones, et in domo turba
externa ac servorum quoque causa nomenclator adhibendus.”

It is indeed recommended by Varro to propagate young shepherds in the
family from the old ones; for as grazing farms were commonly in remote
and cheap places, and each shepherd lived in a cottage apart, his
marriage and increase were not liable to the same inconveniences as
in dearer places and where many servants lived in a family, which was
universally the case in such of the Roman farms as produced wine or
corn. If we consider this exception with regard to the shepherds, and
weigh the reasons of it, it will serve for a strong confirmation of all
our foregoing suspicions.

Columella, I own, advises the master to give a reward, and even liberty
to a female slave that had reared him above three children, a proof
that sometimes the ancients propagated from their slaves, which,
indeed, cannot be denied. Were it otherwise the practice of slavery,
being so common in antiquity, must have been destructive to a degree
which no expedient could repair. All I pretend to infer from these
reasonings is that slavery is in general disadvantageous both to the
happiness and populousness of mankind, and that its place is much
better supplied by the practice of hired servants.

The laws, or, as some writers call them, the seditions of the Gracchi,
were occasioned by their observing the increase of slaves all over
Italy, and the diminution of free citizens. Appian ascribes this
increase to the propagation of the slaves; Plutarch to the purchasing
of barbarians, who were chained and imprisoned, βαρβαρικα
δεσμωτηρια. It is to be presumed that both causes concurred.

Sicily, says Florus, was full of _ergastula_, and was cultivated by
labourers in chains. Eunus and Athenio excited the servile war by
breaking up these monstrous prisons and giving liberty to 60,000
slaves. The younger Pompey augmented his army in Spain by the same
expedient. If the country-labourers throughout the Roman Empire were
so generally in this situation, and if it was difficult or impossible
to find separate lodgings for the families of the city-servants,
how unfavourable to propagation, as well as to humanity, must the
institution of domestic slavery be esteemed.

Constantinople at present requires the same recruits of slaves from
all the provinces which Rome did of old, and these provinces are of
consequence far from being populous.

Egypt, according to Monsieur Maillet, sends continual colonies of black
slaves to the other parts of the Turkish Empire, and receives annually
an equal return of white; the one brought from the inland parts of
Africa, the other from Mingrella, Circassia, and Tartary.

Our modern convents are no doubt very bad institutions, but there is
reason to suspect that anciently every great family in Italy, and
probably in other parts of the world, was a species of convent. And
though we have reason to detest all those popish institutions as
nurseries of the most abject superstition, burdensome to the public
and oppressive to the poor prisoners, male as well as female, yet may
it be questioned whether they be so destructive to the populousness
of a state as is commonly imagined. Were the land which belongs to a
convent bestowed on a nobleman, he would spend its revenue on dogs,
horses, grooms, footmen, cooks, and housemaids, and his family would
not furnish many more citizens than the convent.

The common reason why parents thrust their daughters into nunneries
is that they may not be overburdened with too numerous a
family; but the ancients had a method almost as innocent and more
effectual to that purpose—viz., the exposing their children in
the earliest infancy. This practice was very common, and is not
mentioned by any author of those times with the horror it deserves, or
scarce​[53] even with disapprobation. Plutarch—the humane, good-natured
Plutarch​[54]—recommends it as a virtue in Attalus, King of Pergamus,
that he murdered, or, if you will, exposed all his own children
in order to leave his crown to the son of his brother, Eumenes,
signalising in this manner his gratitude and affection to Eumenes, who
had left him his heir preferable to that son. It was Solon, the most
celebrated of the sages of Greece, who gave parents permission by law
to kill their children.

Shall we then allow these two circumstances to compensate each
other—viz., monastic vows and the exposing of children, and to be
unfavourable in equal degrees to the propagation of mankind? I doubt
the advantage is here on the side of antiquity. Perhaps, by an odd
connection of causes, the barbarous practice of the ancients might
rather render those times more populous. By removing the terrors of too
numerous a family it would engage many people in marriage, and such is
the force of natural affection that very few in comparison would have
resolution enough to carry into execution their former intentions.

China, the only country where this cruel practice of exposing children
prevails at present, is the most populous country we know, and every
man is married before he is twenty. Such early marriages could scarcely
be general had not men the prospect of so easy a method of getting rid
of their children. I own that Plutarch speaks of it as a very universal
maxim of the poor to expose their children, and as the rich were then
averse to marriage on account of the courtship they met with from those
who expected legacies from them, the public must have been in a
bad situation between them.​[55]

Of all sciences there is none where first appearances are more
deceitful than in politics. Hospitals for foundlings seem favourable
to the increase of numbers, and perhaps may be so when kept under
proper restrictions; but when they open the door to every one, without
distinction, they have probably a contrary effect, and are pernicious
to the state. It is computed that every ninth child born at Paris is
sent to the hospital, though it seems certain, according to the common
course of human affairs, that it is not a hundredth part whose parents
are altogether incapacitated to rear and educate them. The infinite
difference, for health, industry, and morals, between an education in
an hospital and that in a private family should induce us not to make
the entrance into an hospital too easy and engaging. To kill one’s own
child is shocking to nature, and must therefore be pretty unusual;
but to turn over the care of him upon others is very tempting to the
natural indolence of mankind.

Having considered the domestic life and manners of the ancients
compared to those of the moderns, where in the main we seem rather
superior so far as the present question is concerned, we shall now
examine the political customs and institutions of both ages, and weigh
their influence in retarding or forwarding the propagation of mankind.

Before the increase of the Roman power, or rather till its full
establishment, almost all the nations which are the scene of
ancient history were divided into small territories or petty
commonwealths, where of course a great equality of fortune prevailed,
and the centre of the government was always very near its frontiers.

This was the situation of affairs not only in Greece and Italy,
but also in Spain, Gaul, Germany, Africa, and a great part of the
Lesser Asia. And it must be owned that no institution could be more
favourable to the propagation of mankind; for though a man of an
overgrown fortune, not being able to consume more than another, must
share it with those who serve and attend him, yet their possession
being precarious, they have not the same encouragement to marriage as
if each had a small fortune secure and independent. Enormous cities
are, besides, destructive to society, beget vice and disorder of all
kinds, starve the remoter provinces, and even starve themselves by
the prices to which they raise all provisions. Where each man had his
little house and field to himself, and each county had its capital,
free and independent, what a happy situation of mankind! How favourable
to industry and agriculture, to marriage and propagation! The prolific
virtue of men, were it to act in its full extent, without that
restraint which poverty and necessity imposes on it, would double the
number every generation; and nothing surely can give it more liberty
than such small commonwealths, and such an equality of fortune among
the citizens. All small states naturally produce equality of fortune
because they afford no opportunities of great increase, but small
commonwealths much more by that division of power and authority which
is essential to them.

When Xenophon returned after the famous expedition with Cyrus, he hired
himself and 6000 of the Greeks into the service of Seuthes, a prince of
Thrace; and the articles of his agreement were that each soldier should
receive a daric a month, each captain two darics, and he himself, as
general, four; a regulation of pay which would not a little surprise
our modern officers.

Demosthenes and Æschines, with eight more, were sent ambassadors to
Philip of Macedon, and their appointments for above four months
were a thousand drachmas, which is less than a drachma a day for each
ambassador. But a drachma a day—nay, sometimes two, was the pay of a
common foot-soldier.

A centurion among the Romans had only double pay to a private man in
Polybius’s time, and we accordingly find the gratuities after a triumph
regulated by that proportion. But Mark Anthony and the triumvirate
gave the centurions five times the reward of the other; so much had
the increase of the commonwealth increased the inequality among the

It must be owned that the situation of affairs in modern times with
regard to civil liberty, as well as equality of fortune, is not near
so favourable either to the propagation or happiness of mankind.
Europe is shared out mostly into great monarchies, and such parts of
it as are divided into small territories are commonly governed by
absolute princes, who ruin their people by a mimicry of the greater
monarchs in the splendour of their court and number of their forces.
Switzerland alone and Holland resemble the ancient republics, and
though the former is far from possessing any advantage either of
soil, climate, or commerce, yet the numbers of people with which it
abounds, notwithstanding their enlisting themselves into every service
in Europe, prove sufficiently the advantages of their political

The ancient republics derived their chief or only security from the
numbers of their citizens. The Trachinians having lost great numbers
of their people, the remainder, instead of enriching themselves by
the inheritance of their fellow-citizens, applied to Sparta, their
metropolis, for a new stock of inhabitants. The Spartans immediately
collected ten thousand men, among whom the old citizens divided the
lands of which the former proprietors had perished.

After Timoleon had banished Dionysius from Syracuse and had
settled the affairs of Sicily, finding the cities of Syracuse and
Sellinuntium extremely depopulated by tyranny, war, and faction,
he invited over from Greece some new inhabitants to repeople them.
Immediately forty thousand men (Plutarch says sixty thousand) offered
themselves, and he distributed so many lots of land among them, to the
great satisfaction of the ancient inhabitants; a proof at once of the
maxims of ancient policy, which affected populousness more than riches,
and of the good effects of these maxims in the extreme populousness
of that small country Greece, which could at once supply so large a
colony. The case was not much different with the Romans in early times.
“He is a pernicious citizen,” said M. Curius, “who cannot be contented
with seven acres.”​[57] Such ideas of equality could not fail of
producing great numbers of people.

We must now consider what disadvantages the ancients lay under with
regard to populousness, and what checks they received from their
political maxims and institutions. There are commonly compensations in
every human condition, and though these compensations be not always
perfectly equal, yet they serve, at least, to restrain the prevailing
principle. To compare them and estimate their influence is indeed
very difficult, even where they take place in the same age, and in
neighbouring countries; but where several ages have intervened, and
only scattered lights are afforded us by ancient authors, what can we
do but amuse ourselves by talking, _pro_ and _con_, on an interesting
subject, and thereby correcting all hasty and violent determinations?

First, we may observe that the ancient republics were almost in
perpetual war, a natural effect of their martial spirit, their love
of liberty, their mutual emulation, and that hatred which generally
prevails among nations that live in a close neighbourhood. Now, war
in a small state is much more destructive than in a great one, both
because all the inhabitants in the former case must serve in the
armies, and because the state is all frontier and all exposed to the
inroads of the enemy.

The maxims of ancient war were much more destructive than those of
modern, chiefly by the distribution of plunder, in which the soldiers
were indulged. The private men in our armies are such a low set of
people that we find any abundance beyond their simple pay breeds
confusion and disorder, and a total dissolution of discipline. The very
wretchedness and meanness of those who fill the modern armies render
them less destructive to the countries which they invade; one instance,
among many, of the deceitfulness of first appearances in all political

Ancient battles were much more bloody by the very nature of the weapons
employed in them. The ancients drew up their men sixteen or twenty,
sometimes fifty men deep, which made a narrow front, and it was not
difficult to find a field in which both armies might be marshalled and
might engage with each other. Even where any body of the troops was
kept off by hedges, hillocks, woods, or hollow ways, the battle was
not so soon decided between the contending parties but that the others
had time to overcome the difficulties which opposed them and take part
in the engagement. And as the whole armies were thus engaged, and each
man closely buckled to his antagonist, the battles were commonly very
bloody, and great slaughter was made on both sides, especially on the
vanquished. The long thin lines required by firearms, and the
quick decision of the fray, render our modern engagements but partial
rencounters, and enable the general who is foiled in the beginning
of the day to draw off the greatest part of his army, sound and
entire. Could Folard’s project of the column take place (which seems
impracticable​[59]) it would render modern battles as destructive as
the ancient.

The battles of antiquity, both by their duration and their resemblance
of single combats, were wrought up to a degree of fury quite unknown to
later ages. Nothing could then engage the combatants to give quarter
but the hopes of profit by making slaves of their prisoners. In civil
wars, as we learn from Tacitus, the battles were the most bloody,
because the prisoners were not slaves.

What a stout resistance must be made where the vanquished expected so
hard a fate! How inveterate the rage where the maxims of war were, in
every respect, so bloody and severe!

Instances are very frequent in ancient history of cities besieged whose
inhabitants, rather than open their gates, murdered their wives and
children, and rushed themselves on a voluntary death, sweetened perhaps
with a little prospect of revenge upon the enemy. Greeks as well as
barbarians have been often wrought up to this degree of fury. And the
same determined spirit and cruelty must, in many other instances less
remarkable, have been extremely destructive to human society in those
petty commonwealths which lived in a close neighbourhood, and were
engaged in perpetual wars and contentions.

Sometimes the wars in Greece, says Plutarch, were carried on entirely
by inroads and robberies and piracies. Such a method of war must be
more destructive in small states than the bloodiest battles and sieges.

By the laws of the twelve tables, possession for two years
formed a prescription for land; one year for movables;​[60] an
indication that there was not in Italy during that period much more
order, tranquillity, and settled police than there is at present among
the Tartars.

The only cartel I remember in ancient history is that between Demetrius
Poliorcetes and the Rhodians, when it was agreed that a free citizen
should be restored for 1000 drachmas, a slave bearing arms for 500.

But, secondly, it appears that ancient manners were more unfavourable
than the modern, not only in times of war but also in those of peace;
and that too in every respect, except the love of civil liberty and
equality, which is, I own, of considerable importance. To exclude
faction from a free government is very difficult, if not altogether
impracticable; but such inveterate rage between the factions and
such bloody maxims are found, in modern times, amongst religious
parties alone, where bigoted priests are the accusers, judges, and
executioners. In ancient history we may always observe, where one
party prevailed, whether the nobles or people (for I can observe no
difference in this respect​[61]), that they immediately butchered all
of the opposite party who fell into their hands, and banished such as
had been so fortunate as to escape their fury. No form of process, no
law, no trial, no pardon. A fourth, a third, perhaps near a half of
the city were slaughtered or expelled every revolution; and the exiles
always joined foreign enemies and did all the mischief possible to
their fellow-citizens, till fortune put it in their power to take full
revenge by a new revolution. And as these were very frequent in such
violent governments, the disorder, diffidence, jealousy, enmity which
must prevail are not easy for us to imagine in this age of the world.

There are only two revolutions I can recollect in ancient history
which passed without great severity and great effusion of blood in
massacres and assassinations—viz., the restoration of the Athenian
democracy by Thrasybulus, and the subduing the Roman republic by
Cæsar. We learn from ancient history that Thrasybulus passed a general
amnesty for all past offences, and first introduced that word as well
as practice into Greece. It appears, however, from many orations of
Lysias, that the chief, and even some of the subaltern offenders in
the preceding tyranny were tried and capitally punished. This is a
difficulty not cleared up, and even not observed by antiquarians and
historians. And as to Cæsar’s clemency, though much celebrated, it
would not gain great applause in the present age. He butchered, for
instance, all Cato’s senate, when he became master of Utica; and these,
we may readily believe, were not the most worthless of the party. All
those who had borne arms against that usurper were forfeited, and, by
Hirtius’s law, declared incapable of all public offices.

These people were extremely fond of liberty, but seem not to have
understood it very well. When the Thirty Tyrants first established
their dominion at Athens, they began with seizing all the sycophants
and informers who had been so troublesome during the Democracy, and
putting them to death by an arbitrary sentence and execution. “Every
man,” says Sallust and Lysias,​[62] “rejoiced at these punishments;”
not considering that liberty was from that moment annihilated.

The utmost energy of the nervous style of Thucydides, and the
copiousness and expression of the Greek language, seem to sink under
that historian when he attempts to describe the disorders which arose
from faction throughout all the Greek commonwealths. You would
imagine that he still labours with a thought greater than he can find
words to communicate, and he concludes his pathetic description with
an observation which is at once very refined and very solid. “In
these contests,” says he, “those who were dullest and most stupid,
and had the least foresight, commonly prevailed; for being conscious
of this weakness, and dreading to be over-reached by those of greater
penetration, they went to work hastily, without premeditation, by the
sword and poniard, and thereby prevented their antagonists, who were
forming fine schemes and projects for their destruction.”​[63]

Not to mention Dionysius the elder, who is computed to have butchered
in cold blood above 10,000 of his fellow-citizens, nor Agathocles,
Nabis, and others still more bloody than he, the transactions, even in
free governments, were extremely violent and destructive. At Athens,
the Thirty Tyrants and the nobles in a twelvemonth murdered, without
trial, about 1200 of the people, and banished above the half of the
citizens that remained.​[64] In Argos, near the same time, the people
killed 1200 of the nobles, and afterwards their own demagogues, because
they had refused to carry their prosecutions further. The people also
in Corcyra killed 1500 of the nobles and banished a thousand. These
numbers will appear the more surprising if we consider the
extreme smallness of these states. But all ancient history is full of
such instances.​[65]

When Alexander ordered all the exiles to be restored through all the
cities, it was found that the whole amounted to 20,000 men, the remains
probably of still greater slaughters and massacres. What an astonishing
multitude in so narrow a country as ancient Greece! And what domestic
confusion, jealousy, partiality, revenge, heart-burnings must tear
those cities, where factions were wrought up to such a degree of fury
and despair!

“It would be easier,” says Isocrates to Philip, “to raise an
army in Greece at present from the vagabonds than from the cities.”

Even where affairs came not to such extremities (which they failed not
to do almost in every city twice or thrice every century), property was
rendered very precarious by the maxims of ancient government. Xenophon,
in the banquet of Socrates, gives us a very natural, unaffected
description of the tyranny of the Athenian people. “In my poverty,”
says Charmides, “I am much more happy than ever I was while possessed
of riches; as much as it is happier to be in security than in terrors,
free than a slave, to receive than to pay court, to be trusted than
suspected. Formerly I was obliged to caress every informer, some
imposition was continually laid upon me, and it was never allowed me to
travel or be absent from the city. At present, when I am poor, I look
big and threaten others. The rich are afraid of me, and show me every
kind of civility and respect, and I am become a kind of tyrant in the

In one of the pleadings of Lysias, the orator very coolly speaks of it,
by the by, as a maxim of the Athenian people, that whenever they wanted
money they put to death some of the rich citizens as well as strangers,
for the sake of the forfeiture. In mentioning this, he seems to have no
intention of blaming them, still less of provoking them who were his
audience and judges.

Whether a man was a citizen or a stranger among that people, it seems
indeed requisite either that he should impoverish himself or the people
would impoverish him, and perhaps kill him into the bargain. The orator
last mentioned gives a pleasant account of an estate laid out in the
public service​[66]—that is, above the third of it in raree-shows and
figured dances.

I need not insist on the Greek tyrannies, which were altogether
horrible. Even the mixed monarchies, by which most of the ancient
states of Greece were governed before the introduction of republics,
were very unsettled. Scarce any city but Athens, says Isocrates, could
show a succession of kings for four or five generations.

Besides many other obvious reasons for the instability of ancient
monarchies, the equal division of property among the brothers in
private families must, by a necessary consequence, contribute to
unsettle and disturb the state. The universal preference given to the
elder by modern laws, though it increases the inequality of fortunes,
has, however, this good effect, that it accustoms men to the same idea
of public succession, and cuts off all claim and pretension of the

The new settled colony of Heraclea, falling immediately into factions,
applied to Sparta, who sent Heripidas with full authority to quiet
their dissensions. This man, not provoked by any opposition, not
inflamed by party rage, knew no better expedient than immediately
putting to death about 500 of the citizens. A strong proof how deeply
rooted these violent maxims of government were throughout all Greece.

If such was the disposition of men’s minds among that refined people,
what may be expected in the commonwealths of Italy, Africa, Spain, and
Gaul, which were denominated barbarous? Why otherwise did the Greeks
so much value themselves on their humanity, gentleness, and moderation
above all other nations? This reasoning seems very natural; but
unluckily the history of the Roman commonwealth in its earlier times,
if we give credit to the received accounts, stands against us. No blood
was ever shed in any sedition at Rome till the murder of the Gracchi.
Dionysius Halicarnassæus, observing the singular humanity of the Roman
people in this particular, makes use of it as an argument that they
were originally of Grecian extraction; whence we may conclude that the
factions and revolutions in the barbarous republics were usually more
violent than even those of Greece above mentioned.

If the Romans were so late in coming to blows, they made ample
compensation after they had once entered upon the bloody scene; and
Appian’s history of their civil wars contains the most frightful
picture of massacres, proscriptions, and forfeitures that ever was
presented to the world. What pleases most in that historian is that he
seems to feel a proper resentment of these barbarous proceedings, and
talks not with that provoking coolness and indifference which custom
had produced in many of the Greek historians.​[67]

The maxims of ancient politics contain, in general, so little humanity
and moderation that it seems superfluous to give any particular reason
for the violences committed at any particular period; yet I cannot
forbear observing that the laws in the latter ages of the Roman
commonwealth were so absurdly contrived that they obliged the heads of
parties to have recourse to these extremities. All capital punishments
were abolished. However criminal, or, what is more, however dangerous
any citizen might be, he could not regularly be punished otherwise than
by banishment; and it became necessary in the revolutions of party to
draw the sword of private vengeance; nor was it easy, when laws were
once violated, to set bounds to these sanguinary proceedings. Had
Brutus himself prevailed over the Triumvirate, could he, in common
prudence, have allowed Octavius and Anthony to live, and have contented
himself with banishing them to Rhodes or Marseilles, where they might
still have plotted new commotions and rebellions? His executing C.
Antonius, brother to the Triumvir, shows evidently his sense of the
matter. Did not Cicero, with the approbation of all the wise and
virtuous of Rome, arbitrarily put to death Catiline’s associates
contrary to law and without any trial or form of process? And if he
moderated his executions, did it not proceed either from the clemency
of his temper or the conjunctures of the times? A wretched security in
a government which pretends to laws and liberty!

Thus, one extreme produces another. In the same manner as excessive
severity in the laws is apt to beget great relaxation in their
execution, so their excessive lenity naturally produces cruelty and
barbarity. It is dangerous to force us, in any case, to pass their
sacred boundaries.

One general cause of the disorders so frequent in all ancient
governments seems to have consisted in the great difficulty of
establishing any aristocracy in those ages, and the perpetual
discontents and seditions of the people whenever even the meanest
and most beggarly were excluded from the legislature and from public
offices. The very quality of freeman gave such a rank, being opposed
to that of slave, that it seemed to entitle the possessor to every
power and privilege of the commonwealth. Solon’s laws excluded no
freeman from votes or elections, but confined some magistracies to a
particular census; yet were the people never satisfied till those laws
were repealed. By the treaty with Antipater, no Athenian had a vote
whose census was less than 2000 drachmas (about £60 sterling). And
though such a government would to us appear sufficiently democratical,
it was so disagreeable to that people that above two-thirds of them
immediately left their country. Cassander reduced that census to the
half, yet still the government was considered as an oligarchical
tyranny and the effect of foreign violence.

Servius Tullius’s laws seem very equal and reasonable, by fixing the
power in proportion to the property, yet the Roman people could never
be brought quietly to submit to them.

In those days there was no medium between a severe, jealous
aristocracy, ruling over discontented subjects, and a turbulent,
factious, tyrannical democracy.

But, thirdly, there are many other circumstances in which ancient
nations seem inferior to the modern, both for the happiness and
increase of mankind. Trade, manufactures, industry were nowhere in
former ages so flourishing as they are at present in Europe. The only
garb of the ancients, both for males and females, seems to have been
a kind of flannel which they wore commonly white or gray, and which
they scoured as often as it grew dirty. Tyre, which carried on, after
Carthage, the greatest commerce of any city in the Mediterranean
before it was destroyed by Alexander, was no mighty city, if we credit
Arrian’s account of its inhabitants.​[68] Athens is commonly
supposed to have been a trading city; but it was as populous before the
Median War as at any time after it, according to Herodotus,​[69] and
yet its commerce at that time was so inconsiderable that, as the same
historian observes, even the neighbouring coasts of Asia were as little
frequented by the Greeks as the Pillars of Hercules—for beyond these he
conceived nothing.

Great interest of money and great profits of trade are an infallible
indication that industry and commerce are but in their infancy. We
read in Lysias of 100 per cent. profit made of a cargo of two talents,
sent to no greater distance than from Athens to the Adriatic. Nor is
this mentioned as an instance of exorbitant profit. Antidorus, says
Demosthenes, paid three talents and a half for a house which he let at
a talent a year; and the orator blames his own tutors for not employing
his money to like advantage. “My fortune,” says he, “in eleven years
minority ought to have been tripled.” The value of twenty of the slaves
left by his father he computes at 40 minas, and the yearly profit of
their labour at 12. The most moderate interest at Athens (for there
was higher often paid) was 12 per cent., and that paid monthly. Not to
insist upon the exorbitant interest of 34 per cent. to which the vast
sums distributed in elections had raised money at Rome, we find that
Verres, before that factious period, stated 24 per cent. for money,
which he left in the publicans’ hands. And though Cicero declaims
against this article, it is not on account of the extravagant usury,
but because it had never been customary to state any interest on such
occasions. Interest, indeed, sunk at Rome after the settlement of the
empire; but it never remained any considerable time so low as
in the commercial states of modern ages.

Among the other inconveniences which the Athenians felt from the
fortifying Decelia by the Lacedemonians, it is represented by
Thucydides as one of the most considerable that they could not bring
over their corn from Eubea by land, passing by Oropus; but were
obliged to embark it and to sail about the promontory of Sunium—a
surprising instance of the imperfection of ancient navigation, for the
water-carriage is not here above double the land.

I do not remember any passage in any ancient author where the growth
of any city is ascribed to the establishment of a manufacture. The
commerce which is said to flourish is chiefly the exchange of those
commodities for which different soils and climates were suited. The
sale of wine and oil into Africa, according to Diodorus Siculus, was
the foundation of the riches of Agrigentum. The situation of the city
of Sybaris, according to the same author, was the cause of its immense
populousness, being built near the two rivers, Crathys and Sybaris. But
these two rivers, we may observe, are not navigable, and could only
produce some fertile valleys for agriculture and husbandry—an advantage
so inconsiderable that a modern writer would scarcely have taken notice
of it.

The barbarity of the ancient tyrants, together with the extreme
love of liberty which animated those ages, must have banished every
merchant and manufacturer, and have quite depopulated the state, had it
subsisted upon industry and commerce. While the cruel and suspicious
Dionysius was carrying on his butcheries, who that was not detained
by his landed property, and could have carried with him any art or
skill to procure a subsistence in other countries, would have remained
exposed to such implacable barbarity? The persecutions of Philip II.
and Louis XIV. filled all Europe with the manufacturers of Flanders and
of France.

I grant that agriculture is the species of industry which is chiefly
requisite to the subsistence of multitudes, and it is possible that
this industry may flourish even where manufactures and other
arts are unknown and neglected. Switzerland is at present a very
remarkable instance, where we find at once the most skilful husbandmen
and the most bungling tradesmen that are to be met with in all Europe.
That agriculture flourished in Greece and Italy, at least in some parts
of them, and at some periods, we have reason to presume; and whether
the mechanical arts had reached the same degree of perfection may not
be esteemed so material, especially if we consider the great equality
in the ancient republics, where each family was obliged to cultivate
with the greatest care and industry its own little field in order to
its subsistence.

But is it just reasoning, because agriculture may in some instances
flourish without trade or manufactures, to conclude that, in any great
extent of country and for any great tract of time, it would subsist
alone? The most natural way surely of encouraging husbandry is first to
excite other kinds of industry, and thereby afford the labourer a ready
market for his commodities and a return of such goods as may contribute
to his pleasure and enjoyment. This method is infallible and universal,
and as it prevails more in modern government than in the ancient, it
affords a presumption of the superior populousness of the former.

Every man, says Xenophon, may be a farmer; no art or skill is
requisite: all consists in the industry and attention to the execution.
A strong proof, as Columella hints, that agriculture was but little
known in the age of Xenophon.

All our later improvements and refinements, have they operated
nothing towards the easy subsistence of men, and consequently towards
their propagation and increase? Our superior skill in mechanics, the
discovery of new worlds, by which commerce has been so much enlarged,
the establishment of posts, and the use of bills of exchange: these
seem all extremely useful to the encouragement of art, industry, and
populousness. Were we to strike off these, what a check should we give
to every kind of business and labour, and what multitudes of families
would immediately perish from want and hunger! And it seems not
probable that we could supply the place of these new inventions
by any other regulation or institution.

Have we reason to think that the police of ancient states was any wise
comparable to that of modern, or that men had then equal security
either at home or in their journeys by land or water? I question not
but every impartial examiner would give us the preference in this

Thus, upon comparing the whole, it seems impossible to assign any just
reason why the world should have been more populous in ancient than in
modern times. The equality of property among the ancients, liberty,
and the small divisions of their states, were indeed favourable to
the propagation of mankind; but their wars were more bloody and
destructive, their governments more factious and unsettled, commerce
and manufactures more feeble and languishing, and the general police
more loose and irregular. These latter disadvantages seem to form a
sufficient counterbalance to the former advantages, and rather favour
the opposite opinion to that which commonly prevails with regard to
this subject.

But there is no reasoning, it may be said, against matter of fact. If
it appear that the world was then more populous than at present, we may
be assured that our conjectures are false, and that we have overlooked
some material circumstance in the comparison. This I readily own: all
our preceding reasonings I acknowledge to be mere trifling, or, at
least, small skirmishes and frivolous rencounters which decide nothing.
But unluckily the main combat, where we compare facts, cannot be
rendered much more decisive. The facts delivered by ancient authors are
either so uncertain or so imperfect as to afford us nothing positive
in this matter. How indeed could it be otherwise? The very facts which
we must oppose to them in computing the greatness of modern states are
far from being either certain or complete. Many grounds of calculation
proceeded on by celebrated writers are little better than those of the
Emperor Heliogabalus, who formed an estimate of the immense greatness
of Rome from ten thousand pound weight of cobwebs which had been found
in that city.

It is to be remarked that all kinds of numbers are uncertain in ancient
manuscripts, and have been subject to much greater corruptions than
any other part of the text, and that for a very obvious reason. Any
alteration in other places commonly affects the sense or grammar, and
is more readily perceived by the reader and transcriber.

Few enumerations of inhabitants have been made of any tract of country
by any ancient author of good authority so as to afford us a large
enough view for comparison.

It is probable that there was formerly a good foundation for the number
of citizens assigned to any free city, because they entered for a share
of the government, and there were exact registers kept of them. But as
the number of slaves is seldom mentioned, this leaves us in as great
uncertainty as ever with regard to the populousness even of single

The first page of Thucydides is, in my opinion, the commencement of
real history. All preceding narrations are so intermixed with fable
that philosophers ought to abandon them, in a great measure, to the
embellishment of poets and orators.​[70]

With regard to remote times, the numbers of people assigned are often
ridiculous, and lose all credit and authority. The free citizens of
Sybaris, able to bear arms and actually drawn out in battle, were
300,000. They encountered at Siagra with 100,000 citizens of Crotona,
another Greek city contiguous to them, and were defeated. This is
Diodorus Siculus’s account, and is very seriously insisted on by
that historian. Strabo also mentions the same number of Sybarites.

Diodorus Siculus, enumerating the inhabitants of Agrigentum, when it
was destroyed by the Carthaginians, says that they amounted to 20,000
citizens, 200,000 strangers, besides slaves, who, in so opulent a
city as he represents it, would probably be at least as numerous. We
must remark that the women and the children are not included, and
that therefore, upon the whole, the city must have contained near two
millions of inhabitants.​[71] And what was the reason of so immense an
increase! They were very industrious in cultivating the neighbouring
fields, not exceeding a small English county; and they traded with
their wine and oil to Africa, which, at that time, had none of these

Ptolemy, says Theocritus, commanded 33,339 cities. I suppose the
singularity of the number was the reason of assigning it. Diodorus
Siculus assigns three millions of inhabitants to Egypt, a very small
number; but then he makes the number of their cities amount to
18,000—an evident contradiction.

He says the people were formerly seven millions. Thus remote times are
always most envied and admired.

That Xerxes’s army was extremely numerous I can readily believe, both
from the great extent of his empire and from the foolish practice
of the Eastern nations of encumbering their camp with a superfluous
multitude; but will any rational man cite Herodotus’s wonderful
narrations as an authority? There is something very rational, I own,
in Lysias’s argument upon this subject. Had not Xerxes’ army been
incredibly numerous, says he, he had never built a bridge over the
Hellespont: it had been much easier to have transported his men over so
short a passage, with the numerous shipping of which he was master.

Polybius says that the Romans, between the first and second Punic Wars,
being threatened with an invasion from the Gauls, mustered all
their own forces and those of their allies, and found them amount to
seven hundred thousand men able to bear arms. A great number surely,
and which, when joined to the slaves, is probably not less, if not
rather more than that extent of country affords at present.​[72] The
enumeration too seems to have been made with some exactness, and
Polybius gives us the detail of the particulars; but might not the
number be imagined in order to encourage the people?

Diodorus Siculus makes the same enumeration amount to near a million.
These variations are suspicious. He plainly, too, supposes that Italy
in his time was not so populous, another very suspicious circumstance;
for who can believe that the inhabitants of that country diminished
from the time of the first Punic War to that of the Triumvirates?

Julius Cæsar, according to Appian, encountered four millions of Gauls,
killed one million, and took another million prisoners.​[73] Supposing
the number of the enemy’s army and of the killed could be exactly
assigned, which never is possible, how could it be known how often the
same man returned into the armies, or how distinguish the new from the
old levied soldiers? No attention ought ever to be given to such loose,
exaggerated calculations; especially where the author tells us not the
mediums upon which the calculations were founded.

Paterculus makes the number killed by Cæsar amount only to 400,000: a
much more probable account, and more easily reconciled to the history
of these wars given by that conqueror himself in his _Commentaries_.

One would imagine that every circumstance of the life and actions of
Dionysius the elder might be regarded as authentic and free from all
fabulous exaggeration, both because he lived at a time when
letters flourished most in Greece and because his chief historian was
Philistus, a man allowed to be of great genius, and who was a courtier
and minister of that prince. But can we admit that he had a standing
army of 100,000 foot, 10,000 horse, and a fleet of 400 galleys? These,
we may observe, were mercenary forces, and subsisted upon their pay,
like our armies in Europe. For the citizens were all disarmed; and
when Dion afterwards invaded Sicily and called on his countrymen to
vindicate their liberty, he was obliged to bring arms along with him,
which he distributed among those who joined him. In a state where
agriculture alone flourishes there may be many inhabitants, and if
these be all armed and disciplined, a great force may be called out
upon occasion; but great numbers of mercenary troops can never be
maintained without either trade and manufactures, or very extensive
dominions. The United Provinces never were masters of such a force by
sea and land as that which is said to belong to Dionysius; yet they
possess as large a territory, perfectly well cultivated, and have
infinitely more resources from their commerce and industry. Diodorus
Siculus allows that, even in his time, the army of Dionysius appeared
incredible; that is, as I interpret it, it was entirely a fiction, and
the opinion arose from the exaggerated flattery of the courtiers, and
perhaps from the vanity and policy of the tyrant himself.

It is a very usual fallacy to consider all the ages of antiquity
as one period, and to compute the numbers contained in the great
cities mentioned by ancient authors as if these cities had been all
contemporary. The Greek colonies flourished extremely in Sicily during
the age of Alexander; but in Augustus’s time they were so decayed that
almost all the product of that fertile island was consumed in Italy.

Let us now examine the numbers of inhabitants assigned to particular
cities in antiquity, and omitting the numbers of Nineveh, Babylon,
and the Egyptian Thebes, let us confine ourselves to the sphere of
real history, to the Grecian and Roman states. I must own, the
more I consider this subject the more am I inclined to scepticism with
regard to the great populousness ascribed to ancient times.

Athens is said by Plato to be a very great city; and it was surely
the greatest of all the Greek​[74] cities, except Syracuse, which
was nearly about the same size in Thucydides’ time, and afterwards
increased beyond it; for Cicero​[75] mentions it as the greatest of
all the Greek cities in his time, not comprehending, I suppose, either
Antioch or Alexandria under that denomination. Athenæus says that, by
the enumeration of Demetrius Phalereus, there were in Athens 21,000
citizens, 10,000 strangers, and 400,000 slaves. This number is very
much insisted on by those whose opinion I call in question, and is
esteemed a fundamental fact to their purpose; but, in my opinion, there
is no point of criticism more certain than that Athenæus and Ctesicles,
whom he cites, are here mistaken, and that the number of slaves is
augmented by a whole cypher, and ought not to be regarded as more than

Firstly, when the number of citizens is said to be 21,000 by
Athenæus,​[76] men of full age are only understood. For (1) Herodotus
says that Aristagoras, ambassador from the Ionians, found it harder
to deceive one Spartan than 30,000 Athenians, meaning in a loose way
the whole state, supposed to be met in one popular assembly, excluding
the women and children. (2) Thucydides says that, making allowance
for all the absentees in the fleet, army, garrisons, and for people
employed in their private affairs, the Athenian Assembly never rose to
five thousand. (3) The forces enumerated by the same historian,​[77]
being all citizens, and amounting to 13,000 heavy-armed infantry,
prove the same method of calculation, as also the whole tenor
of the Greek historians, who always understand men of full age when
they assign the number of citizens in any republic. Now, these being
but the fourth of the inhabitants, the free Athenians were by this
account 84,000, the strangers 40,000, and the slaves, calculating by
the smaller number, and allowing that they married and propagated at
the same rate with freemen, were 160,000, and the whole inhabitants
284,000—a large enough number surely. The other number, 1,720,000,
makes Athens larger than London and Paris united.

Secondly, there were but 10,000 houses in Athens.

Thirdly, though the extent of the walls, as given us by Thucydides, be
great (viz., eighteen miles, beside the sea-coast), yet Xenophon says
there was much waste ground within the walls. They seemed indeed to
have joined four distinct and separate cities.​[78]

Fourthly, no insurrection of the slaves, nor suspicion of insurrection,
are ever mentioned by historians, except one commotion of the miners.

Fifthly, the Athenians’ treatment of their slaves is said by Xenophon,
and Demosthenes, and Plautus to have been extremely gentle and
indulgent, which could never have been the case had the disproportion
been twenty to one. The disproportion is not so great in any of our
colonies, and yet we are obliged to exercise a very rigorous military
government over the negroes.

Sixthly, no man is ever esteemed rich for possessing what may be
reckoned an equal distribution of property in any country, or
even triple or quadruple that wealth. Thus, every person in England is
computed by some to spend sixpence a day; yet is he estimated but poor
who has five times that sum. Now, Timarchus is said by Æschines to have
been left in easy circumstances, but he was master only of ten slaves
employed in manufactures. Lysias and his brother, two strangers, were
proscribed by the Thirty for their great riches, though they had but
sixty apiece. Demosthenes was left very rich by his father, yet he had
no more than fifty-two slaves. His workhouse, of twenty cabinet-makers,
is said to have been a very considerable manufactory.

Seventhly, during the Decelian War, as the Greek historians call it,
20,000 slaves deserted and brought the Athenians to great distress, as
we learn from Thucydides. This could not have happened had they been
only the twentieth part. The best slaves would not desert.

Eighthly, Xenophon proposes a scheme for entertaining by the public
10,000 slaves. “And that so great a number may possibly be supported
any one will be convinced,” says he, “who considers the numbers we
possessed before the Decelian War”—a way of speaking altogether
incompatible with the larger number of Athenæus.

Ninthly, the whole census of the state of Athens was less than 6000
talents; and though numbers in ancient manuscripts be often suspected
by critics, yet this is unexceptionable, both because Demosthenes, who
gives it, gives also the detail, which checks him, and because Polybius
assigns the same number and reasons upon it. Now, the most vulgar
slave could yield by his labour an obolus a day, over and above his
maintenance, as we learn from Xenophon, who says that Nicias’s overseer
paid his master so much for slaves, whom he employed in digging of
mines. If you will take the pains to estimate an obolus a day and the
slaves at 400,000, computing only at four years’ purchase, you will
find the sum above 12,000 talents, even though allowance be made for
the great number of holidays in Athens. Besides, many of the slaves
would have a much greater value from their art. The lowest
that Demosthenes estimates any of his father’s slaves is two minas a
head; and upon this supposition it is a little difficult, I confess,
to reconcile even the number of 40,000 slaves with the census of 6000

Tenthly, Chios is said by Thucydides to contain more slaves than
any Greek city except Sparta. Sparta then had more than Athens, in
proportion to the number of citizens. The Spartans were 9000 in the
town, 30,000 in the country. The male slaves, therefore, of full age,
must have been more than 780,000; the whole more than 3,120,000—a
number impossible to be maintained in a narrow barren country such as
Laconia, which had no trade. Had the Helotes been so very numerous,
the murder of 2000 mentioned by Thucydides would have irritated them
without weakening them.

Besides, we are to consider that the number assigned by Athenæus,​[79]
whatever it is, comprehends all the inhabitants of Attica as well as
those of Athens. The Athenians affected much a country life, as we
learn from Thucydides, and when they were all chased into town by the
invasion of their territory during the Peloponnesian War, the city
was not able to contain them, and they were obliged to lie in the
porticoes, temples, and even streets, for want of lodging.

The same remark is to be extended to all the other Greek cities, and
when the number of the citizens is assigned we must always understand
it of the inhabitants of the neighbouring country as well as of the
city. Yet, even with this allowance, it must be confessed that Greece
was a populous country and exceeded what we could imagine of so narrow
a territory, naturally not very fertile, and which drew no supplies of
corn from other places; for, excepting Athens, which traded
to Pontus for that commodity, the other cities seem to have subsisted
chiefly from their neighbouring territory.​[80]

Rhodes is well known to have been a city of extensive commerce and of
great fame and splendour, yet it contained only 6000 citizens able to
bear arms when it was besieged by Demetrius.

Thebes was always one of the capital cities of Greece, but the number
of its citizens exceeded not those of Rhodes.​[81] Phliasia is said
to be a small city by Xenophon, yet we find that it contained
6000 citizens. I pretend not to reconcile these two facts. Perhaps
Xenophon calls Phliasia a small town because it made but a small figure
in Greece and maintained only a subordinate alliance with Sparta;
or perhaps the country belonging to it was extensive, and most of
the citizens were employed in the cultivation of it and dwelt in the
neighbouring villages.

Mantinea was equal to any city in Arcadia, consequently it was equal
to Megalopolis, which was fifty stadia, or sixty miles and a quarter
in circumference. But Mantinea had only 3000 citizens. The Greek
cities, therefore, contained often fields and gardens, together with
the houses, and we cannot judge of them by the extent of their walls.
Athens contained no more than 10,000 houses, yet its walls, with the
sea-coast, were about twenty miles in extent. Syracuse was twenty-two
miles in circumference, yet was scarcely ever spoken of by the
ancients as more populous than Athens. Babylon was a square of fifteen
miles, or sixty miles in circuit; but it contained large cultivated
fields and enclosures, as we learn from Pliny. Though Aurelian’s wall
was fifty miles in circumference, the circuit of all the thirteen
divisions of Rome, taken apart, according to Publius Victor, was only
about forty-three miles. When an enemy invaded the country all the
inhabitants retired within the walls of the ancient cities, with their
cattle and furniture and instruments of husbandry, and the great height
to which the walls were raised enabled a small number to defend them
with facility.

“Sparta,” says Xenophon,​[82] “is one of the cities of Greece that has
the fewest inhabitants.” Yet Polybius says that it was forty-eight
stadia in circumference, and was round.

All the Ætolians able to bear arms in Antipater’s time, deducting some
few garrisons, were but ten thousand men.

Polybius tells us that the Achæan league might, without any
inconvenience, march thirty or forty thousand men; and this account
seems very probable, for that league comprehended the greatest
part of Peloponnesus. Yet Pausanias, speaking of the same period, says
that all the Achæans able to bear arms, even when several manumitted
slaves were joined to them, did not amount to fifteen thousand.

The Thessalians, till their final conquest by the Romans, were in all
ages turbulent, factious, seditious, disorderly. It is not, therefore,
natural to suppose that that part of Greece abounded much in people.

We are told by Thucydides that the part of Peloponnesus adjoining to
Pylos was desert and uncultivated. Herodotus says that Macedonia was
full of lions and wild bulls, animals which can only inhabit vast
unpeopled forests. These were the two extremities of Greece.

All the inhabitants of Epirus, of all ages, sexes, and conditions, who
were sold by Paulus Æmilius, amounted only to 150,000. Yet Epirus might
be double the extent of Yorkshire.

Justin tells us that when Philip of Macedon was declared head of the
Greek confederacy he called a congress of all the states, except the
Lacedemonians, who refused to concur; and he found the force of the
whole, upon computation, to amount to 200,000 infantry and 15,000
cavalry. This must be understood to be all the citizens capable of
bearing arms, for as the Greek republics maintained no mercenary
forces, and had no militia distinct from the whole body of the
citizens, it is not conceivable what other medium there could be of
computation. That such an army could ever by Greece be brought into
the field, and could be maintained there, is contrary to all history.
Upon this supposition, therefore, we may thus reason. The free Greeks
of all ages and sexes were 860,000. The slaves, estimating them by
the number of Athenian slaves as above, who seldom married or had
families, were double the male citizens of full age—viz., 430,000.
And all the inhabitants of ancient Greece, excepting Laconia, were
about 1,290,000—no mighty number, nor exceeding what may be found at
present in Scotland, a country of nearly the same extent, and very
indifferently peopled.

We may now consider the numbers of people in Rome and Italy, and
collect all the lights afforded us by scattered passages in ancient
authors. We shall find, upon the whole, a great difficulty in fixing
any opinion on that head, and no reason to support those exaggerated
calculations so much insisted on by modern writers.

Dionysius Halicarnassæus says that the ancient walls of Rome were
nearly of the same compass with those of Athens, but that the suburbs
ran out to a great extent, and it was difficult to tell where the town
ended or the country began. In some places of Rome, it appears from
the same author, from Juvenal, and from other ancient writers,​[83]
that the houses were high, and families lived in separate storeys,
one above another; but it is probable that these were only the poorer
citizens, and only in some few streets. If we may judge from the
younger Pliny’s​[84] account of his house, and from Bartoli’s plans
of ancient buildings, the men of quality had very spacious palaces;
and their buildings were like the Chinese houses at this day, where
each apartment is separated from the rest, and rises no higher
than a single storey. To which, if we add that the Roman nobility much
affected porticoes, and even woods, in town, we may perhaps allow
Vossius (though there is no manner of reason for it) to read the famous
passage of the elder Pliny​[85] his own way, without admitting
the extravagant consequences which he draws from it.

The number of citizens who received corn by the public distribution
in Augustus’s time was 200,000. This one would esteem a pretty certain
ground of calculation, yet it is attended with such circumstances as
throw us back into doubt and uncertainty.

Did the poorer citizens only receive the distribution? It was
calculated, to be sure, chiefly for their benefit; but it appears from
a passage in Cicero that the rich might also take their portion, and
that it was esteemed no reproach in them to apply for it.

To whom was the corn given—whether only to heads of families, or to
every man, woman, and child? The portion every month was five modii to
each (about five-sixths of a bushel). This was too little for a family,
and too much for an individual. A very accurate antiquarian therefore
infers that it was given to every man of full years, but he allows the
matter to be uncertain.

Was it strictly inquired whether the claimant lived within the
precincts of Rome, or was it sufficient that he presented himself at
the monthly distribution? This last seems more probable.​[86]

Were there no false claimants? We are told that Cæsar struck off at
once 170,000, who had crept in without a just title; and it is very
little probable that he remedied all abuses.

But, lastly, what proportion of slaves must we assign to these
citizens? This is the most material question, and the most uncertain.
It is very doubtful whether Athens can be established as a rule for
Rome. Perhaps the Athenians had more slaves, because they employed
them in manufactures, for which a capital city like Rome seems not so
proper. Perhaps, on the other hand, the Romans had more slaves, on
account of their superior luxury and riches.

There were exact bills of mortality kept at Rome; but no ancient
author has given us the number of burials, except Suetonius, who tells
us that in one season there were 30,000 dead carried into the temple
of Libetina; but this was during a plague, which can afford no certain
foundation for any inference.

The public corn, though distributed only to 200,000 citizens,
affected very considerably the whole agriculture of Italy, a fact
no way reconcilable to some modern exaggerations with regard to the
inhabitants of that country.

The best ground of conjecture I can find concerning the greatness
of ancient Rome is this: We are told by Herodian that Antioch and
Alexandria were very little inferior to Rome. It appears from Diodorus
Siculus that one straight street of Alexandria, reaching from port to
port, was five miles long; and as Alexandria was much more extended in
length than breadth, it seems to have been a city nearly of the bulk of
Paris,​[87] and Rome might be about the size of London.

There lived in Alexandria, in Diodorus Siculus’s time, 300,000 free
people, comprehending, I suppose, women and children.​[88] But what
number of slaves? Had we any just ground to fix these at an equal
number with the free inhabitants, it would favour the foregoing

There is a passage in Herodian which is a little surprising. He says
positively that the palace of the emperor was as large as all the rest
of the city. This was Nero’s golden house, which is indeed represented
by Suetonius and Pliny​[89] as of an enormous extent, but no power of
imagination can make us conceive it to bear any proportion to such a
city as London.

We may observe that, had the historian been relating Nero’s
extravagance, and had he made use of such an expression, it would have
had much less weight, these rhetorical exaggerations being so apt to
creep into an author’s style even when the most chaste and correct; but
it is mentioned by Herodian only by the by, in relating the quarrels
between Geta and Caracalla.

It appears from the same historian that there was then much land
uncultivated and put to no manner of use, and he ascribes it as a great
praise to Pertinax that he allowed every one to take such land either
in Italy or elsewhere and cultivate it as he pleased, without paying
any taxes. Lands uncultivated and put to no manner of use! This is not
heard of in any part of Christendom, except perhaps in some remote
parts of Hungary, as I have been informed. And it surely corresponds
very ill with that idea of the extreme populousness of antiquity so
much insisted on.

We learn from Vopiscus that there was in Etruria much fertile land
uncultivated, which the Emperor Aurelian intended to convert into
vineyards, in order to furnish the Roman people with a gratuitous
distribution of wine: a very proper expedient to dispeople still
further that capital and all the neighbouring territories.

It may not be amiss to take notice of the account which Polybius gives
of the great herds of swine to be met with in Tuscany and Lombardy, as
well as in Greece, and of the method of feeding them which was then
practised. “There are great herds of swine,” says he, “throughout all
Italy, particularly in former times, through Etruria and Cisalpine
Gaul. And a herd frequently contains a thousand or more swine. When
one of these herds in feeding meets with another they mix together,
and the swineherds have no other expedient to separate them than to go
to different quarters, where they sound their horn, and these animals,
being accustomed to that signal, run immediately each to the horn of
his own keeper. Whereas in Greece, if the herds of swine happen to
mix in the forests, he who has the greatest flock takes cunningly the
opportunity of driving all away. And thieves are very apt to purloin
the straggling hogs which have wandered to a great distance from their
keeper in search of food.”

May we not infer from this account that the North of Italy was then
much less peopled and worse cultivated than at present? How could these
vast herds be fed in a country so thick of enclosures, so improved by
agriculture, so divided by farms, so planted with vines and
corn intermingled together? I must confess that Polybius’s relation has
more the air of that economy which is to be met with in our American
colonies than the management of a European country.

We meet with a reflection in Aristotle’s​[90] _Ethics_ which seems to
me unaccountable on any supposition, and by proving too much in favour
of our present reasoning, may be thought really to prove nothing. That
philosopher, treating of friendship, and observing that that relation
ought neither to be contracted to the very few nor extended over a
great multitude, illustrates his opinion by the following argument. “In
like manner,” says he, “as a city cannot subsist if it either have so
few inhabitants as ten, or so many as a hundred thousand, so is there
a mediocrity required in the number of friends, and you destroy the
essence of friendship by running into either extreme.” What! impossible
that a city can contain a hundred thousand inhabitants! Had Aristotle
never seen nor heard of a city which was near so populous? This, I must
own, passes my comprehension.

Pliny tells us that Seleucia, the seat of the Greek empire in the
East, was reported to contain 600,000 people. Carthage is said by
Strabo to have contained 700,000. The inhabitants of Pekin are not
much more numerous. London, Paris, and Constantinople may admit of
nearly the same computation; at least, the two latter cities do not
exceed it. Rome, Alexandria, Antioch we have already spoke of. From the
experience of past and present ages one might conjecture that there
is a kind of impossibility that any city could ever rise much beyond
this proportion. Whether the grandeur of a city be founded on commerce
or on empire, there seems to be invincible obstacles which prevent
its further progress. The seats of vast monarchies, by introducing
extravagant luxury, irregular expense, idleness, dependence, and false
ideas of rank and superiority, are improper for commerce.
Extensive commerce checks itself by raising the price of all labour and
commodities. When a great court engages the attendance of a numerous
nobility possessed of overgrown fortunes, the middling gentry remain
in their provincial towns, where they can make a figure on a moderate
income. And if the dominions of a state arrive at an enormous size,
there necessarily arise many capitals in the remoter provinces, whither
all the inhabitants except a few courtiers repair for education,
fortune, and amusement.​[91] London, by uniting extensive commerce and
middling empire, has perhaps arrived at a greatness which no city will
ever be able to exceed.

Choose Dover or Calais for a centre: draw a circle of two hundred miles
radius; you comprehend London, Paris, the Netherlands, the United
Provinces, and some of the best cultivated counties of France and
England. It may safely, I think, be affirmed that no spot of ground
can be found in antiquity, of equal extent, which contained near so
many great and populous cities, and was so stocked with riches and
inhabitants. To balance, in both periods, the states which possessed
most art, knowledge, civility, and the best police seems the truest
method of comparison.

It is an observation of L’Abbé du Bos that Italy is warmer at present
than it was in ancient times. “The annals of Rome tell us,” says he,
“that in the year 480 A.U.C. the winter was so severe that it destroyed
the trees. The Tiber froze in Rome, and the ground was covered with
snow for forty days. When Juvenal describes a superstitious woman, he
represents her as breaking the ice of the Tiber that she might perform
her ablutions.

    “‘Hybernum fracta glacie descendet in amnem,
    Ter matutino Tyberi mergetur.’

“He speaks of that river’s freezing as a common event. Many passages
of Horace suppose the streets of Rome full of snow and ice. We should
have more certainty with regard to this point had the ancients known
the use of thermometers; but their writers, without intending it,
give us information sufficient to convince us that the winters are
now much more temperate at Rome than formerly. At present the Tiber
no more freezes at Rome than the Nile at Cairo. The Romans esteem the
winter very rigorous if the snow lies two days, and if one sees for
eight-and-forty hours a few icicles hang from a fountain that has a
north exposition.”

The observation of this ingenious critic may be extended to other
European climates. Who could discover the mild climate of France in
Diodorus Siculus’s description of that of Gaul? “As it is a northern
climate,” says he, “it is infested with cold to an extreme degree. In
cloudy weather, instead of rain, there fall great snows, and in clear
weather it there freezes so excessive hard that the rivers acquire
bridges of their own substance, over which not only single travellers
may pass, but large armies, accompanied with all their baggage and
loaded waggons. And there being many rivers in Gaul—the Rhone, the
Rhine, etc.—almost all of them are frozen over, and it is usual, in
order to prevent falling, to cover the ice with chaff and straw at the
places where the road passes.” “Colder than a Gallic winter” is used by
Petronius as a proverbial expression.

“North of the Cevennes,” says Strabo, “Gaul produces not figs and
olives, and the vines which have been planted bear not grapes that will

Ovid positively maintains, with all the serious affirmation of prose,
that the Euxine Sea was frozen over every winter in his time, and
he appeals to Roman governors, whom he names, for the truth of his
assertion. This seldom or never happens at present in the latitude of
Tomi, whither Ovid was banished. All the complaints of the same poet
seem to mark a rigour of the seasons which is scarce experienced at
present in Petersburg or Stockholm.

Tournefort, a Provençal, who had travelled into the same
countries, observes that there is not a finer climate in the world;
and he asserts that nothing but Ovid’s melancholy could have given him
such dismal ideas of it.

But the facts mentioned by that poet are too circumstantial to bear any
such interpretation.

Polybius says that the climate in Arcadia was very cold, and the air

“Italy,” says Varro, “is the most temperate climate in Europe. The
inland parts” (Gaul, Germany, and Pannonia, no doubt) “have almost
perpetual winter.”

The northern parts of Spain, according to Strabo, are but ill inhabited
because of the great cold.

Allowing, therefore, this remark to be just, that Europe is become
warmer than formerly, how can we account for it? Plainly by no other
method than by supposing that the land is at present much better
cultivated, and that the woods are cleared which formerly threw a shade
upon the earth and kept the rays of the sun from penetrating to it. Our
northern colonies in America become more temperate in proportion as the
woods are felled,​[92] but in general, every one may remark that cold
still makes itself more severely felt both in North and South America,
than in places under the same latitude in Europe.

Saserna, quoted by Columella, affirmed that the disposition of the
heavens was altered before his time, and that the air had become much
milder and warmer. “As appears hence,” says he, “that many places now
abound with vineyards and olive plantations which formerly, by reason
of the rigour of the climate, could raise none of these productions.”
Such a change, if real, will be allowed an evident sign of the better
cultivation and peopling of countries before the age of Saserna;​[93]
and if it be continued to the present times, is a proof that
these advantages have been continually increasing throughout this part
of the world.

Let us now cast our eye over all the countries which were the scene
of ancient and modern history, and compare their past and present
situation. We shall not, perhaps, find such foundation for the
complaint of the present emptiness and depopulation of the world. Egypt
is represented by Maillet, to whom we owe the best account of it, as
extremely populous, though he esteems the number of its inhabitants
to be diminished. Syria, and the Lesser Asia, as well as the coast of
Barbary, I can really own to be very desert in comparison of their
ancient condition. The depopulation of Greece is also very obvious. But
whether the country now called Turkey in Europe may not, in general,
contain as many inhabitants as during the flourishing period of Greece
may be a little doubtful. The Thracians seem then to have lived like
the Tartars at present, by pillage and plunder; the Getes were still
more uncivilized, and the Illyrians were no better. These occupy
nine-tenths of that country, and though the government of the Turks be
not very favourable to industry and propagation, yet it preserves at
least peace and order among the inhabitants, and is preferable to that
barbarous, unsettled condition in which they anciently lived.

Poland and Muscovy in Europe are not populous, but are certainly much
more so than the ancient Sarmatia and Scythia, where no husbandry or
tillage was ever heard of, and pasturage was the sole art by which
the people were maintained. The like observation may be extended to
Denmark and Sweden. No one ought to esteem the immense swarms of
people which formerly came from the North, and overran all Europe, to
be any objection to this opinion. Where a whole nation, or even half
of it, remove their seat, it is easy to imagine what a prodigious
multitude they must form, with what desperate valour they must make
their attacks, and how the terror they strike into the invaded nations
will make these magnify, in their imagination, both the courage and
multitude of the invaders. Scotland is neither extensive nor populous,
but were the half of its inhabitants to seek new seats they
would form a colony as large as the Teutons and Cimbri, and would
shake all Europe, supposing it in no better condition for defence than

Germany has surely at present twenty times more inhabitants than in
ancient times, when they cultivated no ground, and each tribe valued
itself on the extensive desolation which it spread around, as we
learn from Cæsar, and Tacitus, and Strabo. A proof that the division
into small republics will not alone render a nation populous, unless
attended with the spirit of peace, order, and industry.

The barbarous condition of Britain in former times is well known, and
the thinness of its inhabitants may easily be conjectured, both from
their barbarity and from a circumstance mentioned by Herodian, that all
Britain was marshy, even in Severus’s time, after the Romans had been
fully settled in it above a whole century.

It is not easily imagined that the Gauls were anciently much more
advanced in the arts of life than their northern neighbours, since they
travelled to this island for their education in the mysteries of the
religion and philosophy of the Druids.​[94] I cannot therefore think
that Gaul was then near so populous as France is at present.

Were we to believe, indeed, and join together the testimony of Appian
and that of Diodorus Siculus, we must admit an incredible populousness
in Gaul. The former historian says that there were 400 nations in that
country; the latter affirms that the largest of the Gallic nations
consisted of 200,000 men, besides women and children, and the least
of 50,000. Calculating therefore at a medium, we must admit of near
200,000,000 of people in a country which we esteem populous at present,
though supposed to contain little more than twenty.​[95] Such
calculations therefore by their extravagance lose all manner of
authority. We may observe that that equality of property, to which
the populousness of antiquity may be ascribed, had no place among the
Gauls. Their intestine wars also, before Cæsar’s time, were almost
perpetual. And Strabo observes that though all Gaul was cultivated,
yet it was not cultivated with any skill or care, the genius of the
inhabitants leading them less to arts than arms, till their slavery to
Rome produced peace among themselves.

Cæsar enumerates very particularly the great forces which were levied
at Belgium to oppose his conquests, and makes them amount to 208,000.
These were not the whole people able to bear arms in Belgium; for the
same historian tells us that the Bellovaci could have brought a hundred
thousand men into the field, though they engaged only for sixty. Taking
the whole, therefore, in this proportion of ten to six, the sum of
fighting men in all the states of Belgium was about 350,000; all the
inhabitants a million and a half. And Belgium being about the fourth of
Gaul, that country might contain six millions, which is not the third
of its present inhabitants.​[96] We are informed by Cæsar that the
Gauls had no fixed property in land; but that the chieftains, when any
death happened in a family, made a new division of all the lands among
the several members of the family. This is the custom of Tanistry,
which so long prevailed in Ireland, and which retained that
country in a state of misery, barbarism, and desolation.

The ancient Helvetia was 250 miles in length and 180 in breadth,
according to the same author, yet contained only 360,000 inhabitants.
The Canton of Berne alone has at present as many people.

After this computation of Appian and Diodorus Siculus, I know not
whether I dare affirm that the modern Dutch are more numerous than the
ancient Batavi.

Spain is decayed from what it was three centuries ago; but if we step
backward two thousand years and consider the restless, turbulent,
unsettled condition of its inhabitants, we may probably be inclined
to think that it is now much more populous. Many Spaniards killed
themselves when deprived of their arms by the Romans. It appears from
Plutarch that robbery and plunder were esteemed honourable among the
Spaniards. Hirtius represents in the same light the situation of that
country in Cæsar’s time, and he says that every man was obliged to
live in castles and walled towns for his security. It was not till its
final conquest under Augustus that these disorders were repressed.
The account which Strabo and Justin give of Spain corresponds exactly
with those above mentioned. How much therefore must it diminish from
our idea of the populousness of antiquity when we find that Cicero,
comparing Italy, Africa, Gaul, Greece, and Spain, mentions the great
number of inhabitants as the peculiar circumstance which rendered this
latter country formidable.​[97]

Italy, it is probable however, has decayed; but how many great cities
does it still contain? Venice, Genoa, Pavia, Turin, Milan, Naples,
Florence, Leghorn, which either subsisted not in ancient times,
or were then very inconsiderable. If we reflect on this, we shall not
be apt to carry matters to so great an extreme as is usual with regard
to this subject.

When the Roman authors complain that Italy, which formerly exported
corn, became dependent on all the provinces for its daily bread, they
never ascribe this alteration to the increase of its inhabitants, but
to the neglect of tillage and agriculture. A natural effect of that
pernicious practice of importing corn in order to distribute it gratis
among the Roman citizens, and a very bad means of multiplying the
inhabitants of any country.​[98] The sportula, so much talked of by
Martial and Juvenal, being presents regularly made by the great lords
to their smaller clients, must have had a like tendency to produce
idleness, debauchery, and a continual decay among the people. The
parish-rates have at present the same bad consequences in England.

Were I to assign a period when I imagine this part of the world might
possibly contain more inhabitants than at present, I should pitch
upon the age of Trajan and the Antonines, the great extent of the
Roman Empire being then civilized and cultivated, settled almost in a
profound peace both foreign and domestic, and living under the same
regular police and government.​[99] But we are told that all
extensive governments, especially absolute monarchies, are destructive
to population, and contain a secret vice and poison, which destroy the
effect of all these promising appearances. To confirm this, there is a
passage cited from Plutarch, which being somewhat singular, we shall
here examine it.

That author, endeavouring to account for the silence of many of the
oracles, says that it may be ascribed to the present desolation of the
world, proceeding from former wars and factions, which common calamity,
he adds, has fallen heavier upon Greece than on any other country;
insomuch that the whole could scarce at present furnish three thousand
warriors, a number which, in the time of the Median War, were supplied
by the single city of Megara. The gods, therefore, who affect works
of dignity and importance, have suppressed many of their oracles, and
deign not to use so many interpreters of their will to so diminutive a

I must confess that this passage contains so many difficulties that
I know not what to make of it. You may observe that Plutarch assigns
for a cause of the decay of mankind not the extensive dominion of the
Romans, but the former wars and factions of the several nations, all
which were quieted by the Roman arms. Plutarch’s reasoning, therefore,
is directly contrary to the inference which is drawn from the fact he

Polybius supposes that Greece had become more prosperous and
flourishing after the establishment of the Roman yoke;​[100] and though
that historian wrote before these conquerors had degenerated
from being the patrons to be the plunderers of mankind, yet as we find
from Tacitus that the severity of the emperors afterwards checked the
licence of the governors, we have no reason to think that extensive
monarchy so destructive as it is so often represented.

We learn from Strabo that the Romans, from their regard to the Greeks,
maintained, to his time, most of the privileges and liberties of
that celebrated nation, and Nero afterwards rather increased them.
How therefore can we imagine that the Roman yoke was so burdensome
over that part of the world? The oppression of the proconsuls was
restrained, and the magistracies in Greece being all bestowed in the
several cities by the free votes of the people, there was no great
necessity for the competitors to attend the emperor’s court. If great
numbers went to seek their fortunes in Rome, and advance themselves by
learning or eloquence, the commodities of their native country, many
of them would return with the fortunes which they had acquired, and
thereby enrich the Grecian commonwealths.

But Plutarch says that the general depopulation had been more sensibly
felt in Greece than in any other country. How is this reconcilable to
its superior privileges and advantages?

Besides, this passage by proving too much really proves nothing. Only
three thousand men able to bear arms in all Greece! Who can admit so
strange a proposition, especially if we consider the great number
of Greek cities whose names still remain in history, and which are
mentioned by writers long after the age of Plutarch? There are there
surely ten times more people at present, when there scarce remains
a city in all the bounds of ancient Greece. That country is still
tolerably cultivated, and furnishes a sure supply of corn in case of
any scarcity in Spain, Italy, or the South of France.

We may observe that the ancient frugality of the Greeks, and their
equality of property, still subsisted during the age of Plutarch, as
appears from Lucian. Nor is there any ground to imagine that
that country was possessed by a few masters and a great number of

It is probable, indeed, that military discipline, being entirely
useless, was extremely neglected in Greece after the establishment
of the Roman Empire; and if these commonwealths, formerly so warlike
and ambitious, maintained each of them a small city-guard to prevent
mobbish disorders, it is all they had occasion for; and these, perhaps,
did not amount to three thousand men throughout all Greece. I own that
if Plutarch had this fact in his eye, he is here guilty of a very gross
paralogism, and assigns causes nowise proportioned to the effects. But
is it so great a prodigy that an author should fall into a mistake of
this nature?​[101]

But whatever force may remain in this passage of Plutarch, we shall
endeavour to counterbalance it by as remarkable a passage in Diodorus
Siculus, where the historian, after mentioning Ninus’s army of
1,700,000 foot and 200,000 horse, endeavours to support the credibility
of this account by some posterior facts; and adds that we must not
form a notion of the ancient populousness of mankind from the present
emptiness and depopulation which is spread over the world. Thus an
author, who lived at that very period of antiquity which is represented
as most populous,​[102] complains of the desolation which then
prevailed, gives the preference to former times, and has recourse to
ancient fables as a foundation for his opinion. The humour of blaming
the present and admiring the past is strongly rooted in human nature,
and has an influence even on persons endued with the most profound
judgment and most extensive learning.


[39] An ingenious writer has honoured this discourse with an answer
full of politeness, erudition, and good sense. So learned a refutation
would have made the author suspect that his reasonings were entirely
overthrown, had he not used the precaution from the beginning to keep
himself on the sceptical side; and having taken this advantage of the
ground, he was enabled, though with much inferior forces, to preserve
himself from a total defeat. That reverend gentleman will always find,
where his antagonist is so entrenched, that it will be difficult to
enforce him. Varro, in such a situation, could defend himself against
Hannibal, Pharnaces against Cæsar. The author, however, very willingly
acknowledges that his antagonist has detected many mistakes both in
his authorities and reasonings; and it was owing entirely to that
gentleman’s indulgence that many more errors were not remarked. In this
edition advantage has been taken of his learned animadversions, and the
essay has been rendered less imperfect than formerly.

[40] Columella says (lib. 3, cap. 8) that in Egypt and Africa the
bearing of twins was frequent and even customary; _gemini partus
familiares, ac pæne solennes sunt_. If this was true, there is a
physical difference both in countries and ages, for travellers make
no such remarks of these countries at present; on the contrary, we
are apt to suppose the northern nations more fertile. As those two
countries were provinces of the Roman Empire, it is difficult, though
not altogether absurd, to suppose that such a man as Columella might be
mistaken with regard to them.

[41] This too is a good reason why the smallpox does not depopulate
countries so much as may at first sight be imagined. Where there
is room for more people they will always arise, even without the
assistance of naturalisation bills. It is remarked by Don Geronimo
de Ustariz that the provinces of Spain which send most people to the
Indies are most populous, which proceeds from their superior riches.

[42] The same practice was common in Rome, but Cicero seems not to
think this evidence so certain as the testimony of free citizens. (_Pro

[43] Epistle 122. The inhuman sports exhibited at Rome may justly be
considered too as an effect of the people’s contempt for slaves, and
was also a great cause of the general inhumanity of their princes and
rulers. Who can read the accounts of the amphitheatrical entertainments
without horror? Or who is surprised that the emperors should treat
that people in the same way the people treated their inferiors?
One’s humanity on that occasion is apt to renew the barbarous wish
of Caligula, that the people had but one neck. A man could almost be
pleased by a single blow to put an end to such a race of monsters. “You
may thank God,” says the author above cited (Epistle 7), addressing
himself to the Roman people, “that you have a master (viz., the mild
and merciful Nero) who is incapable of learning cruelty from your
example.” This was spoken in the beginning of his reign; but he fitted
them very well afterwards, and no doubt was considerably improved by
the sight of the barbarous objects to which he had from his infancy
been accustomed.

[44] We may here observe that if domestic slavery really increased
populousness, it would be an exception to the general rule, that the
happiness of any society and its populousness are necessary attendants.
A master, from humour or interest, may make his slaves very unhappy,
and yet be careful, from interest, to increase their number. Their
marriage is not a matter of choice with them, no more than any other
action of their life.

[45] Ten thousand slaves in a day have been often sold for the use of
the Romans at Delus in Cilicia.—Strabo, lib. 14.

[46] As _servus_ was the name of the genus, and _verna_ of the
species, without any correlative, this forms a strong presumption
that the latter were by far the least numerous. It is a universal
observation which we may form upon language that where two related
parts of a whole bear any proportion to each other in numbers, rank,
or consideration, there are always correlative terms invented which
answer to both the parts, and express their mutual relation. If they
bear no proportion to each other, the term is only invented for the
less, and marks its distinction from the whole. Thus man and woman,
master and servant, father and son, prince and subject, stranger and
citizen are correlative terms; but the words—seaman, carpenter, smith,
tailor, etc., have no correspondent terms which express those who are
no seaman, no carpenter, etc. Languages differ very much with regard
to the particular words where this distinction obtains, and may thence
afford very strong inferences concerning the manners and customs of
different nations. The military government of the Roman emperors had
exalted the soldiery so high that they balanced all the other orders of
the state; hence _miles_ and _paganus_ became relative terms, a thing
till then unknown to ancient, and still so to modern languages. Modern
superstition has exalted the clergy so high that they overbalance
the whole state; hence clergy and laity are terms opposed in all
modern languages, and in these alone. And from the same principles I
infer that if the number of slaves bought by the Romans from foreign
countries had not extremely exceeded those bred at home, _verna_ would
have had a correlative which would have expressed the former species of
slaves; but these, it would seem, composed the main body of the ancient
slaves, and the latter were but a few exceptions.

[47] _Verna_ is used by the Roman writers as a word equivalent to
_scurra_, on account of the petulance and impudence of those slaves.
(Mart., lib. 1, ep. 42.) Horace also mentions the _vernæ procaces_; and
Petronius (cap. 24), _vernula urbanitas_. Seneca (_de provid._, cap.
1), _vernularum licentia_.

[48] It is computed in the West Indies that a stock of slaves grow
worse five per cent. every year unless new slaves be bought to recruit
them. They are not able to keep up their number even in those warm
countries where clothes and provisions are so easily got. How much more
must this happen in European countries, and in or near great cities?

[49] Corn. Nepos in _Vita Attici_. We may remark that Atticus’s estate
lay chiefly in Epirus, which being a remote, desolate place, would
render it profitable for him to rear slaves there.

[50] κλινοποι οι, makers of those beds which the ancients lay upon at

[51] “Non temere ancillæ ejus rei causa comparantur ut pariant”
(_Digest._ lib. 5, tit. 3, _de hæred. petit._ _lex_ 27). The following
texts are to the same purpose:—“Spadonem morbosum non esse, neque
vitiosum, verius mihi videtur; sed sanum esse, sicuti illum qui unum
testiculum habet, qui etiam generare potest” (_Digest._ lib. 2, tit.
1, _de ædilitio edicto_, _lex 6_, § 2). “Sin autem quis ita spado sit,
ut tam necessaria pars corporis penitus absit, morbosus est” (_Id._
_lex 7_). His impotence, it seems, was only regarded so far as his
health or life might be affected by it; in other respects he was full
as valuable. The same reasoning is employed with regard to female
slaves. “Quæritur de ea muliere quæ semper mortuos parit, an morbosa
sit? et ait Sabinus, si vulvæ vitio hoc contingit, morbosam esse”
(_Id._ _lex_ 14). It has even been doubted whether a woman pregnant
was morbid or vitiated, and it is determined that she is sound, not on
account of the value of her offspring, but because it is the natural
part or office of women to bear children. “Si mulier prægnans venerit,
inter omnes convenit sanam eam esse. Maximum enim ac præcipuum munus
fœminarum accipere ac tueri conceptum. Puerperam quoque sanam esse; si
modo nihil extrinsecus accedit, quod corpus ejus in aliquam valetudinem
immitteret. De sterili Cœlius distinguere Trebatium dicit, ut si natura
sterilis sit, sana sit; si vitio corporis, contra” (_Id._).

[52] The slaves in the great houses had little rooms assigned them,
called _cellæ_; whence the name of cell was transferred to the monk’s
room in a convent. See further on this head, Just. Lipsius, Saturn.
1, cap. 14. These form strong presumptions against the marriage and
propagation of the family slaves.

[53] Tacitus blames it—_De morib. Germ._

[54] _De fraterno amore._ Seneca also approves of the exposing of
sickly, infirm children (_De ira_, lib. i. cap. 15).

[55] The practice of leaving great sums of money to friends, though one
had near relations, was common in Greece as well as Rome, as we may
gather from Lucian. This practice prevails much less in modern times;
and Ben Jonson’s _Volpone_ is therefore almost entirely extracted from
ancient authors, and suits better the manners of those times.

It may justly be thought that the liberty of divorces in Rome was
another discouragement to marriage. Such a practice prevents not
quarrels from humour, but rather increases them; and occasions also
those from interest, which are much more dangerous and destructive.
Perhaps too the unnatural lusts of the ancients ought to be taken into
consideration as of some moment.

[56] Cæsar gave the centurions ten times the gratuity of the common
soldiers (_De bell. Gallico_, lib. viii.). In the Rhodian cartel,
mentioned afterwards, no distinction in the ransom was made on account
of ranks in the army.

[57] Plin. lib. 18, cap. 3. The same author, in cap. 6, says, “Verumque
fatentibus latifundia perdidere Italiam; jam vero et provincias. Sex
domo semissem Africæ possidebant, cum interfecit eos Nero princeps.” In
this view the barbarous butchery committed by the first Roman emperors
was not perhaps so destructive to the public as we may imagine. These
never ceased till they had extinguished all the illustrious families
which had enjoyed the plunder of the world during the latter ages
of the republic. The new nobles who rose in their place were less
splendid, as we learn from Tacit. _Ann._ lib. 3, cap. 55.

[58] The ancient soldiers, being free citizens above the lowest
rank, were all married. Our modern soldiers are either forced to
live unmarried, or their marriages turn to small account towards the
increase of mankind—a circumstance which ought, perhaps, to be taken
into consideration, as of some consequence in favour of the ancients.

[59] What is the advantage of the column after it has broken the
enemy’s line? Only that it then takes them in flank, and dissipates
whatever stands near it by a fire from all sides; but till it has
broken them, does it not present a flank to the enemy, and that exposed
to their musketry, and, what is much worse, to their cannon?

[60] Inst. lib. 2, cap. 6. It is true the same law seems to have
been continued till the time of Justinian, but abuses introduced by
barbarism are not always corrected by civility.

[61] Lysias, who was himself of the popular faction and very narrowly
escaped from the Thirty Tyrants, says that the democracy was as violent
a government as the oligarchy. Orat. 24, _de statu. popul._

[62] Orat. 24. And in Orat. 29 he mentions the factious spirit of the
popular assemblies as the only cause why these illegal punishments
should displease.

[63] Lib. 3. The country in Europe in which I have observed the
factions to be most violent, and party hatred the strongest, is
Ireland. This goes so far as to cut off even the most common
intercourse of civilities between the Protestants and Catholics. Their
cruel insurrections, and the severe revenges which they have taken of
each other, are the causes of this mutual ill-will, which is the chief
source of the disorder, poverty, and depopulation of that country. The
Greek factions I imagine to have been inflamed still to a higher degree
of rage, the revolutions being commonly more frequent, and the maxims
of assassination much more avowed and acknowledged.

[64] Diod. Sic., lib. 14. Isocrates says there were only 5000 banished.
He makes the number of those killed amount to 1500. Areop. Æschines
_contra Ctesiph._ assigns precisely the same number. Seneca (_De tranq.
anim._ cap. 5) says 1300.

[65] We shall mention from Diodorus Siculus alone a few which passed in
the course of sixty years during the most shining age of Greece. There
were banished from Sybaris 500 of the nobles and their partisans (lib.
12 p. 77, _ex edit._ Rhodomanni); of Chians, 600 citizens banished
(lib. 13 p. 189); at Ephesus, 340 killed, 1000 banished (lib. 13 p.
223); of Cyrenians, 500 nobles killed, all the rest banished (lib. 14
p. 263); the Corinthians killed 120, banished 500 (lib. 14 p. 304);
Phæbidas the Spartan banished 300 Bæotians (lib. 15 p. 342). Upon the
fall of the Lacedemonians, democracies were restored in many cities,
and severe vengeance taken of the nobles, after the Greek manner. But
matters did not end there, for the banished nobles, returning in many
places, butchered their adversaries at Phialæ in Corinth, in Megara,
in Phliasia. In this last place they killed 300 of the people; but
these again revolting, killed above 600 of the nobles and banished the
rest (lib. 15 p. 357). In Arcadia 1400 banished, besides many killed.
The banished retired to Sparta and Pallantium. The latter delivered up
to their countrymen, and all killed (lib. 15 p. 373). Of the banished
from Argos and Thebes there were 500 in the Spartan army (_id._ p.
374). Here is a detail of the most remarkable of Agathocles’ cruelties
from the same author. The people before his usurpation had banished
600 nobles (lib. 19 p. 655). Afterwards that tyrant, in concurrence
with the people, killed 4000 nobles and banished 6000 (_id._ p. 647).
He killed 4000 people at Gela (_id._ p. 741). By Agathocles’ brother
8000 banished from Syracuse (lib. 20 p. 757). The inhabitants of
Ægesta, to the number of 40,000, were killed—man, woman, and child;
and with tortures, for the sake of their money (_id._ p. 802). All the
relations—viz., father, brother, children, grandfather, of his Libyan
army, killed (_id._ p. 103). He killed 7000 exiles after capitulation
(_id._ p. 816). It is to be remarked that Agathocles was a man of great
sense and courage; his violent tyranny, therefore, is a stronger proof
of the manners of the age.

[66] In order to recommend his client to the favour of the people, he
enumerates all the sums he had expended. When χορηγος, 30 minas; upon
a chorus of men, 20 minas; ειπυρριχιστας, 8 minas; ανδρασι χορηγων, 50
minas; κυκλικῳ χορῳ, 3 minas; seven times trierarch, where he spent
6 talents: taxes, once 30 minas, another time 40; γυμνασιαρχων, 12
minas; χορηγος παιδικῳ χορῳ, 15 minas; κομοδοις χορηγων, 18 minas;
πυρριχισταις αγενειοις, 7 minas; τριηρει ἁμιλλομενος, 15 minas;
αρχιθεωρος, 30 minas. In the whole, ten talents 38 minas—an immense
sum for an Athenian fortune, and what alone would be esteemed great
riches (Orat. 20). It is true, he says, the law did not oblige him
absolutely to be at so much expense, not above a fourth; but without
the favour of the people nobody was so much as safe, and this was the
only way to gain it. See further, Orat. 24, _de pop. statu._ In another
place, he introduces a speaker who says that he had spent his whole
fortune—and an immense one, eighty talents—for the people (Orat. 25,
_de prob. Evandri_). The μετοικοι, or strangers, find, says he, if they
do not contribute largely enough to the people’s fancy, that they have
reason to repent (Orat. 30, _contra Phil._). You may see with what care
Demosthenes displays his expenses of this nature, when he pleads for
himself _de corona_; and how he exaggerates Midias’s stinginess in this
particular, in his accusation of that criminal. All this, by the by, is
the mark of a very iniquitous judicature: and yet the Athenians valued
themselves on having the most legal and regular administration of any
people in Greece.

[67] The authorities cited above are all historians, orators, and
philosophers whose testimony is unquestioned. It is dangerous to rely
upon writers who deal in ridicule and satire. What will posterity, for
instance, infer from this passage of Dr. Swift? “I told him that in the
kingdom of Tribnia (Britain), by the natives called Langdon (London),
where I had sojourned some time in my travels, the bulk of the people
consist in a manner wholly of discoverers, witnesses, informers,
accusers, prosecutors, evidences, swearers, together with their several
subservient and subaltern instruments, all under the colours, the
conduct, and pay of ministers of state and their deputies. The plots
in that kingdom are usually the workmanship of those persons,” etc.
(_Gulliver’s Travels._) Such a representation might suit the government
of Athens, but not that of England, which is a prodigy even in modern
times for humanity, justice, and liberty. Yet the Doctor’s satire,
though carried to extremes, as is usual with him, even beyond other
satirical writers, did not altogether want an object. The Bishop of
Rochester, who was his friend, and of the same party, had been banished
a little before by a bill of attainder with great justice, but without
such a proof as was legal, or according to the strict forms of common

[68] Lib. 2. There were 8000 killed during the siege, and the whole
captives amounted to 30,000. Diodorus Siculus (lib. 17) says only
13,000; but he accounts for this small number by saying that the
Tyrians had sent away beforehand part of their wives and children to

[69] Lib. 5. He makes the number of the citizens amount to 30,000.

[70] In general there is more candour and sincerity in ancient
historians, but less exactness and care, than in the moderns. Our
speculative factions, especially those of religion, throw such an
illusion over our minds that men seem to regard impartiality to their
adversaries and to heretics as a vice or weakness; but the commonness
of books, by means of printing, has obliged modern historians to be
more careful in avoiding contradictions and incongruities. Diodorus
Siculus is a good writer, but it is with pain I see his narration
contradict in so many particulars the two most authentic pieces of all
Greek history—viz., Xenophon’s Expedition and Demosthenes’ Orations.
Plutarch and Appian seem scarce ever to have read Cicero’s Epistles.

[71] Diogenes Laertius (in _vita Empedoclis_) says that Agrigentum
contained only 800,000 inhabitants.

[72] The country that supplied this number was not above a third of
Italy—viz., the Pope’s dominions, Tuscany, and a part of the kingdom
of Naples; but perhaps in those early times there were very few slaves
except in Rome, or the great cities.

[73] Plutarch (in _vita Cæs._) makes the number that Cæsar fought with
amount only to three millions; Julian (in _Cæsaribus_) to two.

[74] Argos seems also to have been a great city, for Lysias contents
himself with saying that it did not exceed Athens. (Orat. 34.)

[75] Orat. _contra Verem_, lib. 4, cap. 52. Strabo, lib. 6, says it
was twenty-two miles in compass; but then we are to consider that it
contained two harbours within it, one of which was a very large one,
and might be regarded as a kind of bay.

[76] Demosthenes assigns 20,000.

[77] Lib. 2. Diodorus Siculus’s account perfectly agrees (lib. 12).

[78] We are to observe that when Dionysius Halicarnassæus says that if
we regard the ancient walls of Rome the extent of the city will not
appear greater than that of Athens, he must mean the Acropolis and high
town only. No ancient author ever speaks of the Pyræum, Phalerus, and
Munychia as the same with Athens; much less can it be supposed that
Dionysius would consider the matter in that light after the walls of
Cimon and Pericles were destroyed and Athens was entirely separated
from these other towns. This observation destroys all Vossius’s
reasonings and introduces common sense into these calculations.

[79] The same author affirms that Corinth had once 460,000 slaves,
Ægina 470,000; but the foregoing arguments hold stronger against these
facts, which are indeed entirely absurd and impossible. It is however
remarkable that Athenæus cites so great an authority as Aristotle for
this last fact; and the scholiast on Pindar mentions the same number of
slaves in Ægina.

[80] Demost. _contra Lept._ The Athenians brought yearly from Pontus
400,000 medimni or bushels of corn, as appeared from the custom-house
books; and this was the greatest part of their importation. This, by
the by, is a strong proof that there is some great mistake in the
foregoing passage of Athenæus, for Attica itself was so barren in corn
that it produced not enough even to maintain the peasants. Tit. Liv.,
lib. 43; cap. 6, Lucian, in his _navigium sive vota_, says that a ship,
which by the dimensions he gives seems to have been about the size of
our third rates, carried as much corn as would maintain all Attica for
a twelvemonth. But perhaps Athens was decayed at that time, and besides
it is not safe to trust such loose rhetorical calculations.

[81] Diod. Sic., lib. 17. When Alexander attacked Thebes we may safely
conclude that almost all the inhabitants were present. Whoever is
acquainted with the spirit of the Greeks, especially of the Thebans,
will never suspect that any of them would desert their country when it
was reduced to such extreme peril and distress. As Alexander took the
town by storm, all those who bore arms were put to the sword without
mercy, and they amounted only to 6000 men. Among these were some
strangers and manumitted slaves. The captives, consisting of old men,
women, children, and slaves, were sold, and they amounted to 30,000. We
may therefore conclude that the free citizens in Thebes, of both sexes
and all ages, were near 24,000, the strangers and slaves about 12,000,
These last, we may observe, were somewhat fewer in proportion than at
Athens; as is reasonable to imagine from this circumstance, that Athens
was a town of more trade to support slaves, and of more entertainment
to allure strangers. It is also to be remarked that thirty-six thousand
was the whole number of people, both in the city of Thebes and the
neighbouring territory; a very moderate number, it must be confessed,
and this computation being founded in facts which appear undisputable,
must have great weight in the present controversy. The above-mentioned
number of Rhodians, too, were all the inhabitants of the island who
were free and able to bear arms.

[82] _De rep. Laced._ This passage is not easily reconciled with that
of Plutarch above, who says that Sparta had 9000 citizens.

[83] Strabo, lib. 5, says that the Emperor Augustus prohibited the
raising houses higher than seventy feet. In another passage, lib. 16,
he speaks of the houses of Rome as remarkably high. See also to the
same purpose Vitruvius, lib. 2, cap. 8. Aristides the Sophist, in his
oration εις Ρωμην, says that Rome consisted of cities on the top of
cities; and that if one were to spread it out and unfold it, it would
cover the whole surface of Italy. Where an author indulges himself in
such extravagant declamations, and gives so much in to the hyperbolical
style, one knows not how far he must be reduced. But this reasoning
seems natural: if Rome was built in so scattered a manner as Dionysius
says, and ran so much into the country, there must have been very few
streets where the houses were raised so high. It is only for want of
ground that anybody builds in that inconvenient manner.

[84] Lib. 2, epist. 16; lib. 5, epist. 6. It is true Pliny there
describes a country house; but since that was the idea which the
ancients formed of a magnificent and convenient building, the great
men would certainly build the same way in town. “In laxitatem ruris
excurrunt,” says Seneca of the rich and voluptuous, epist. 114.
Valerius Maximus, lib. 4, cap. 4, speaking of Cincinnatus’ field of
four acres, says: “Augustus se habitare nunc putat, cujus domus tantum
patet quantum Cincinnati rura patuerant.” To the same purpose see lib.
36, cap. 15; also lib. 18, cap. 2.

[85] “Mœnia ejus (Romæ) collegere ambitu imperatoribus, censoribusque
Vespasianis, A.U.C. 828, pass. xiii. MCC, complexa montes septem,
ipsa dividitur in regiones quatuordecim, compita earum 265. Ejusdem
spatii mensura, currente a milliario in capite Rom. Fori statuto, ad
singulas portas, quæ sunt hodie numero 37, ita ut duodecim portæ semel
numerentur, prætereanturque ex veteribus septem, quæ esse desierunt,
efficit passuum per directum 30,775. Ad extrema vero tectorum cum
castris prætoris ab eodem Milliario, per vicos omnium viarum, mensura
collegit paulo amplius septuaginta millia passuum. Quo si quis
altitudinem tectorum addat, dignam profecto, æstimationem concipiat,
fateaturque nullius urbis magnitudinem in toto orbe potuisse ei
comparari.” (Pliny, lib. 3, cap. 5.)

All the best manuscripts of Pliny read the passage as here cited, and
fix the compass of the walls of Rome to be thirteen miles. The question
is, what Pliny means by 30,775 paces, and how that number was formed?
The manner in which I conceive it is this: Rome was a semicircular
area of thirteen miles circumference. The Forum, and consequently the
Milliarium, we know was situated on the banks of the Tiber, and near
the centre of the circle, or upon the diameter of the semicircular
area. Though there were thirty-seven gates to Rome, yet only twelve of
them had straight streets, leading from them to the Milliarium. Pliny,
therefore, having assigned the circumference of Rome, and knowing that
that alone was not sufficient to give us a just notion of its surface,
uses this further method. He supposes all the streets leading from the
Milliarium to the twelve gates to be laid together into one straight
line, and supposes we run along that line so as to count each gate
once, in which case, he says that the whole line is 30,775 paces; or,
in other words, that each street or radius of the semicircular area is
upon an average two miles and a half, and the whole length of Rome is
five miles, and its breadth about half as much, besides the scattered

Père Hardouin understands this passage in the same manner, with regard
to the laying together the several streets of Rome into one line in
order to compose 30,775 paces; but then he supposes that streets led
from the Milliarium to every gate, and that no street exceeded 800
paces in length. But (1) a semicircular area whose radius was only
800 paces could never have a circumference near thirteen miles, the
compass of Rome as assigned by Pliny. A radius of two miles and a half
forms very nearly that circumference. (2) There is an absurdity in
supposing a city so built as to have streets running to its centre from
every gate in its circumference. These streets must interfere as they
approach. (3) This diminishes too much from the greatness of ancient
Rome, and reduces that city below even Bristol or Rotterdam.

The sense which Vossius, in his _Observationes Variæ_, puts on this
passage of Pliny errs widely in the other extreme. One manuscript of
no authority, instead of thirteen miles, has assigned thirty miles for
the compass of the walls of Rome; and Vossius understands this only
of the curvilinear part of the circumference, supposing that, as the
Tiber formed the diameter, there were no walls built on that side. But
(1) this reading is allowed contrary to almost all the manuscripts.
(2) Why should Pliny, a concise writer, repeat the compass of the
walls of Rome in two successive sentences? (3) Why repeat it with so
sensible a variation? (4) What is the meaning of Pliny’s mentioning
twice the Milliarium if a line was measured that had no dependence on
the Milliarium? (5) Aurelian’s wall is said by Vopiscus to have been
drawn _laxiore ambitu_, and to have comprehended all the buildings
and suburbs on the north side of the Tiber, yet its compass was only
fifty miles; and even here critics suspect some mistake or corruption
in the text. It is not probable that Rome would diminish from Augustus
to Aurelian. It remained still the capital of the same empire; and
none of the civil wars in that long period, except the tumults on
the death of Maximus and Balbinus, ever affected the city. Caracalla
is said by Aurelius Victor to have increased Rome. (6) There are no
remains of ancient buildings which mark any such greatness of Rome.
Vossius’s reply to this objection seems absurd—that the rubbish would
sink sixty or seventy feet below ground. It appears from Spartian (_in
vita Severi_) that the five-mile stone _in via Lavicana_ was out of the
city. (7) Olympiodorus and Publius Victor fix the number of houses in
Rome to be between forty and fifty thousand. (8) The very extravagance
of the consequences drawn by this critic, as well as Lipsius, if they
be necessary, destroys the foundation on which they are grounded—that
Rome contained fourteen millions of inhabitants, while the whole
kingdom of France contains only five, according to his computation, etc.

The only objection to the sense which we have affixed above to the
passage of Pliny seems to lie in this, that Pliny, after mentioning
the thirty-seven gates of Rome, assigns only a reason for suppressing
the seven old ones, and says nothing of the eighteen gates, the
streets leading from which terminated, according to my opinion, before
they reached the Forum. But as Pliny was writing to the Romans, who
perfectly knew the disposition of the streets, it is not strange
he should take a circumstance for granted which was so familiar to
everybody. Perhaps, too, many of these gates led to wharves upon the

[86] Not to take the people too much from their business, Augustus
ordained the distribution of corn to be made only thrice a year; but
the people, finding the monthly distribution more convenient (as
preserving, I suppose, a more regular economy in their family), desired
to have them restored. (Sueton. August. cap. 40.) Had not some of the
people come from some distance for their corn, Augustus’s precaution
seems superfluous.

[87] Quintus Curtius says its walls were only ten miles in
circumference when founded by Alexander (lib. 4, cap. 8). Strabo, who
had travelled to Alexandria, as well as Diodorus Siculus, says it was
scarce four miles long, and in most places about a mile broad (lib.
17). Pliny says it resembled a Macedonian cassock, stretching out in
the corners (lib. 5, cap. 10). Notwithstanding this bulk of Alexandria,
which seems but moderate, Diodorus Siculus, speaking of its circuit as
drawn by Alexander (which it never exceeded, as we learn from Ammianus
Marcellinus, lib. 22, cap. 16), says it was μεγεθει διαφεροντα,
extremely great (_ibid._). The reason why he assigns for its surpassing
all cities of the world (for he excepts not Rome) is that it contained
300,000 free inhabitants. He also mentions the revenues of the
kings—viz., 6000 talents—as another circumstance to the same purpose,
no such mighty sum in our eyes, even though we make allowances for
the different value of money. What Strabo says of the neighbouring
country means only that it was well peopled, οἰκουμενα καλως. Might
not one affirm, without any great hyperbole, that the whole banks of
the river from Gravesend to Windsor are one city? This is even more
than Strabo says of the banks of the lake Mareotis, and of the canal
to Canopus. It is a vulgar saying in Italy that the King of Sardinia
has but one town in Piedmont—for it is all a town. Agrippa in Josephus
(_de bello Judaie_, lib. 2, cap. 16), to make his audience comprehend
the excessive greatness of Alexandria, which he endeavours to magnify,
describes only the compass of the city as drawn by Alexander, a clear
proof that the bulk of the inhabitants were lodged there, and that the
neighbouring country was no more than what might be expected about all
great towns, very well cultivated and well peopled.

[88] He says ἐλευθεροι, not πολιται, which last expression must have
been understood of citizens alone, and grown men.

[89] He says (in _Nerone_, cap. 30) that a portico or piazza of it
was 3000 feet long; “tanta laxitas ut porticus triplices milliarias
haberet.” He cannot mean three miles, for the whole extent of the house
from the Palatine to the Esquiline was not near so great. So when
Vopiscus, in _Aureliano_, mentions a portico of Sallust’s gardens,
which he calls _porticus milliariensis_, it must be understood of a
thousand feet. So also Horace—

          “Nulla decempedis
    Metata privatis opacam
    Porticus excipiebat Arcton.” (Lib. ii. ode 15.)

So also in lib. i. Satyr. 8—

    “Mille pedes in fronte, trecentos cippus in agrum
    Hic dabat.”

[90] Lib. ix. cap. 10. His expression is ἀνθρωπος, not πολιτης;
inhabitant, not citizen.

[91] Such were Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage, Ephesus, Lyons, etc.,
in the Roman Empire. Such are even Bordeaux, Toulouse, Dijon, Rennes,
Rouen, Aix, etc., in France; Dublin, Edinburgh, York, in the British

[92] The warm southern colonies also become more healthful; and it is
remarkable that in the Spanish histories of the first discovery and
conquest of these countries they appear to have been very healthful,
being then well peopled and cultivated. No account of the sickness or
decay of Cortes’s or Pizarro’s small armies.

[93] He seems to have lived about the time of the younger Africanus.
(Lib. i. cap. 1.)

[94] Cæsar, _De bello Gallico_, lib. 16. Strabo (lib. 7) says the Gauls
were not much more improved than the Germans.

[95] Ancient Gaul was more extensive than modern France.

[96] It appears from Cæsar’s account that the Gauls had no domestic
slaves, who formed a different order from the Plebes. The whole common
people were indeed a kind of slaves to the nobility, as the people
of Poland are at this day; and a nobleman of Gaul had sometimes ten
thousand dependants of this kind. Nor can we doubt that the armies were
composed of the people as well as of the nobility. An army of 100,000
noblemen from a very small state is incredible. The fighting men
amongst the Helvetii were the fourth part of the whole inhabitants—a
clear proof that all the males of military age bore arms. See Cæsar,
_De bello Gall._, lib. 1.

We may remark that the numbers in Cæsar’s commentaries can be more
depended on than those of any other ancient author, because of the
Greek translation which still remains, and which checks the Latin

[97] “Nec numero Hispanos, nec robore Gallos, nec calliditate Pœnos,
nec artibus Græcos, nec denique hoc ipso hujus gentis, ac terræ
domestico nativoque sensu, Italos ipsos ac Latinos—superavimus.” (_De
harusp. resp._, cap. 9.) The disorders of Spain seem to have been
almost proverbial: “Nec impacatos a tergo horrebis Iberos.” (Virg.
_Georg._, lib. 3.) The Iberi are here plainly taken by a poetical
figure for robbers in general.

[98] Though the observations of l’Abbé du Bos should be admitted that
Italy is now warmer than in former times, the consequence may not be
necessary that it is more populous or better cultivated. If the other
countries of Europe were more savage and woody, the cold winds that
blew from them might affect the climate of Italy.

[99] The inhabitants of Marseilles lost not their superiority over
the Gauls in commerce and the mechanic arts till the Roman dominion
turned the latter from arms to agriculture and civil life. (See Strabo,
lib. 4.) That author, in several places, repeats the observation
concerning the improvement arising from the Roman arts and civility,
and he lived at the time when the change was new and would be more
sensible. So also Pliny: “Quis enim non, communicato orbe terrarum,
majestate Romani imperii, profecisse vitam putet, commercio rerum ac
societate festae pacis, omniaque etiam, quae occulta antea fuerant, in
promiscuo usu facta.” (Lib. 14, proœm.) “Numine deum electa [speaking
of Italy] quae coelum ipsum clarius faceret, sparsa congregaret
imperia, ritusque molliret, et tot populorum discordes, ferasque
linguas fermonis commercio contraheret ad colloquia, et humanitatem
homini daret; breviterque, una cunctarum gentium in toto orbe patria
fieret.” (Lib. 2, cap. 5.) Nothing can be stronger to this purpose
than the following passage from Tertullian, who lived about the age of
Severus:—“Certe quidem ipse orbis in promptu est, cultior de die et
instructior pristino. Omnia jam pervia, omnia nota, omnia negotiosa.
Solitudines famosas retro fundi amoenissimi obliteraverunt, silvas arva
domuerunt, feras pecora fugaverunt; arenae seruntur, saxa panguntur,
paludes eliquantur, tantae urbes, quantae non casae quondam. Jam nec
insulae horrent, nec scopuli terrent; ubique domus, ubique populus,
ubique respublica, ubique vita. Summum testimonium frequentiae humanae,
onerosi sumus mundo, vix nobis elementa sufficiunt; et necessitates
arctiores, et quaerelae apud omnes, dum jam nos natura non sustinet.”
(_De anima_, cap. 30.) The air of rhetoric and declamation which
appears in this passage diminishes somewhat from its authority, but
does not entirely destroy it. The same remark may be extended to the
following passage of Aristides the Sophist, who lived in the age of
Adrian. “The whole world,” says he, addressing himself to the Romans,
“seems to keep one holiday, and mankind, laying aside the sword which
they formerly wore, now betake themselves to feasting and to joy.
The cities, forgetting their ancient contentions, preserve only one
emulation, which shall embellish itself most by every art and ornament?
Theatres everywhere arise, amphitheatres, porticoes, aqueducts,
temples, schools, academies; and one may safely pronounce that the
sinking world has been again raised by your auspicious empire. Nor have
cities alone received an increase of ornament and beauty; but the whole
earth, like a garden or paradise, is cultivated and adorned; insomuch
that such of mankind as are placed out of the limits of your empire
(who are but few) seem to merit our sympathy and compassion.”

It is remarkable that though Diodorus Siculus makes the inhabitants of
Egypt, when conquered by the Romans, amount only to three millions, yet
Josephus (_De bello Jud._, lib. 2, cap. 16) says that its inhabitants,
excluding those of Alexandria, were seven millions and a half in the
reign of Nero, and he expressly says that he drew this account from
the books of the Roman publicans who levied the poll-tax. Strabo
(lib. 17) praises the superior police of the Romans with regard to
the finances of Egypt above that of its former monarchs, and no part
of administration is more essential to the happiness of a people;
yet we read in Athenæus (lib. 1, cap. 25), who flourished during the
reign of the Antonines, that the town Mareia, near Alexandria, which
was formerly a large city, had dwindled into a village. This is not,
properly speaking, a contradiction. Suidas (August) says that the
Emperor Augustus, having numbered the whole Roman Empire, found it
contained only 4,101,017 men (ἀνδρες). There is here surely some great
mistake, either in the author or transcriber; but this authority,
feeble as it is, may be sufficient to counterbalance the exaggerated
accounts of Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus with regard to more early

[100] Lib. 2, cap. 62. It may perhaps be imagined that Polybius, being
dependent on Rome, would naturally extol the Roman dominion; but, in
the first place, Polybius, though one sees sometimes instances of his
caution, discovers no symptoms of flattery. Secondly, this opinion is
only delivered in a single stroke, by the by, while he is intent upon
another subject, and it is allowed, if there be any suspicion of an
author’s insincerity, that these oblique propositions discover his real
opinion better than his more formal and direct assertions.

[101] I must confess that that discourse of Plutarch concerning the
silence of the oracles is in general of so odd a texture, and so unlike
his other productions, that one is at a loss what judgment to form of
it. It is written in dialogue, which is a method of composition that
Plutarch commonly little affects. The personages he introduces advance
very wild, absurd, and contradictory opinions, more like visionary
systems or ravings of Plato than the solid sense of Plutarch. There
runs also through the whole an air of superstition and credulity which
resembles very little the spirit that appears in other philosophical
compositions of that author; for it is remarkable that though Plutarch
be an historian as superstitious as Herodotus or Livy, yet there is
scarcely in all antiquity a philosopher less superstitious, excepting
Cicero and Lucian. I must therefore confess that a passage of Plutarch,
cited from this discourse, has much less authority with me than if it
had been found in most of his other compositions.

There is only one other discourse of Plutarch liable to like
objections—viz., that concerning those whose punishment is delayed by
the Deity. It is also written in dialogue, contains like superstitious,
wild visions, and seems to have been chiefly composed in rivalship to
Plato, particularly his last book, _De Republica_.

And here I cannot but observe that Monsieur Fontenelle, a writer
eminent for candour, seems to have departed a little from his usual
character when he endeavours to throw a ridicule upon Plutarch on
account of passages to be met with in this dialogue concerning oracles.
The absurdities here put into the mouths of the several personages are
not to be ascribed to Plutarch. He makes them refute each other, and in
general he seems to intend the ridiculing of those very opinions which
Fontenelle would ridicule him for maintaining. (See _Histoires des

[102] He was contemporary with Cæsar and Augustus.


As no party, in the present age, can support itself without a
philosophical or speculative system of principles annexed to its
political or practical one, we accordingly find that each of the
parties into which this nation is divided has reared up a fabric of the
former kind, in order to protect and cover that scheme of actions which
it pursues. The people being commonly very rude builders, especially
in this speculative way, and more especially still when actuated by
party zeal, it is natural to imagine that their workmanship must
be a little unshapely, and discover evident marks of that violence
and hurry in which it was raised. The one party, by tracing up the
origin of government to the Deity, endeavour to render government
so sacred and inviolate that it must be little less than
sacrilege, however disorderly it may become, to touch or invade it
in the smallest article. The other party, by founding government
altogether on the consent of the people, suppose that there is a kind
of original contract by which the subjects have reserved the power of
resisting their sovereign whenever they find themselves aggrieved by
that authority with which they have, for certain purposes, voluntarily
entrusted him. These are the speculative principles of the two parties,
and these too are the practical consequences deduced from them.

I shall venture to affirm that both these systems of speculative
principles are just, though not in the sense intended by the parties;
and that both the schemes of practical consequences are prudent, though
not in the extremes to which each party, in opposition to the other,
has commonly endeavoured to carry them.

That the Deity is the ultimate author of all government will never be
denied by any who admits a general providence, and allows that all
events in the universe are conducted by a uniform plan and directed
to wise purposes. As it is impossible for the human race to subsist,
at least in any comfortable or secure state, without the protection
of government, government must certainly have been intended by that
beneficent Being, who means the good of all His creatures; and as it
has universally, in fact, taken place in all countries and all ages,
we may conclude, with still greater certainty, that it was intended
by that omniscient Being, who can never be deceived by any event or
operation. But since he gave rise to it, not by any particular or
miraculous interposition but by his concealed and universal efficacy,
a sovereign cannot, properly speaking, be called his vicegerent in
any other sense than every power or force being derived from him
may be said to act by his commission. Whatever actually happens is
comprehended in the general plan or intention of providence; nor has
the greatest and most lawful prince any more reason, upon that account,
to plead a peculiar sacredness or inviolable authority, than
an inferior magistrate, or even a usurper, or even a robber and a
pirate. The same divine superintendent who, for wise purposes, invested
an Elizabeth or a Henry​[103] with authority, did also, for purposes
no doubt equally wise, though unknown, bestow power on a Borgia or an
Angria. The same causes which gave rise to the sovereign power in every
state, established likewise every petty jurisdiction in it, and every
limited authority. A constable therefore, no less than a king, acts by
a divine commission, and possesses an indefeasible right.

When we consider how nearly equal all men are in their bodily force,
and even in their mental powers and faculties, till cultivated by
education, we must necessarily allow that nothing but their own consent
could at first associate them together, and subject them to any
authority. The people, if we trace government to its first origin in
the woods and deserts, are the source of all power and jurisdiction,
and voluntarily, for the sake of peace and order, abandoned their
native liberty, and received laws from their equal and companion.
The conditions upon which they were willing to submit were either
expressed, or were so clear and obvious that it might well be esteemed
superfluous to express them. If this, then, be meant by the original
contract, it cannot be denied that all government is at first founded
on a contract, and that the most ancient rude combinations of mankind
were formed entirely by that principle. In vain are we sent to the
records to seek for this charter of our liberties. It was not written
on parchment, nor yet on leaves or barks of trees. It preceded the
use of writing and all the other civilized arts of life. But we trace
it plainly in the nature of man, and in the equality which we find in
all the individuals of that species. The force which now prevails,
and which is founded on fleets and armies, is plainly political, and
derived from authority, the effect of established government. A man’s
natural force consists only in the vigour of his limbs and the
firmness of his courage, which could never subject multitudes to the
command of one. Nothing but their own consent, and their sense of the
advantages of peace and order, could have had that influence.

But philosophers who have embraced a party (if that be not a
contradiction in terms) are not contented with these concessions.
They assert, not only that government in its earliest infancy arose
from consent or the voluntary combination of the people, but also
that, even at present, when it has attained its full maturity, it
rests on no other foundation. They affirm that all men are still
born equal, and owe allegiance to no prince or government unless
bound by the obligation and sanction of a promise. And as no man,
without some equivalent, would forgo the advantages of his native
liberty and subject himself to the will of another, this promise is
always understood to be conditional, and imposes on him no obligation
unless he meets with justice and protection from his sovereign. These
advantages the sovereign promises him in return, and if he fails in
the execution, he has broke, on his part, the articles of engagement,
and has thereby freed his subjects from all obligations to allegiance.
Such, according to these philosophers, is the foundation of authority
in every government, and such the right of resistance possessed by
every subject.

But would these reasoners look abroad into the world they would meet
with nothing that in the least corresponds to their ideas, or can
warrant so refined and philosophical a theory. On the contrary, we
find everywhere princes who claim their subjects as their property,
and assert their independent right of sovereignty from conquest or
succession. We find also everywhere subjects who acknowledge this
right in their princes, and suppose themselves born under obligations
of obedience to a certain sovereign, as much as under the ties of
reverence and duty to certain parents. These connections are always
conceived to be equally independent of our consent, in Persia
and China; in France and Spain; and even in Holland and England,
wherever the doctrines above mentioned have not been carefully
inculcated. Obedience or subjection becomes so familiar that most
men never make any inquiry about its origin or cause, more than about
the principle of gravity, resistance, or the most universal laws of
nature. Or if curiosity ever move them, so soon as they learn that they
themselves and their ancestors have for several ages, or from time
immemorial, been subject to such a government or such a family, they
immediately acquiesce and acknowledge their obligation to allegiance.
Were you to preach, in most parts of the world, that political
connections are founded altogether on voluntary consent or a mutual
promise, the magistrate would soon imprison you, as seditious, for
loosening the ties of obedience; if your friends did not shut you up,
as delirious, for advancing such absurdities. It is strange that an
act of the mind which every individual is supposed to have formed—and
after he came to the use of reason too, otherwise it could have no
authority—that this act, I say, should be so unknown to all of them,
that over the face of the whole earth there scarce remain any traces or
memory of it.

But the contract on which government is founded is said to be the
original contract, and consequently may be supposed too old to fall
under the knowledge of the present generation. If the agreement by
which savage men first associated and conjoined their force be here
meant, this is acknowledged to be real; but being so ancient, and being
obliterated by a thousand changes of government and princes, it cannot
now be supposed to retain any authority. If we would say anything to
the purpose, we must assert that every particular government which is
lawful, and which imposes any duty of allegiance on the subject, was at
first founded on consent and a voluntary compact. But besides that this
supposes the consent of the fathers to bind the children, even to the
most remote generations (which republican writers will never allow),
besides this, I say, it is not justified by history or experience in
any age or country of the world.

Almost all the governments which exist at present, or of which
there remains any record in story, have been founded originally either
on usurpation or conquest, or both, without any pretence of a fair
consent or voluntary subjection of the people. When an artful and bold
man is placed at the head of an army or faction, it is often easy for
him, by employing sometimes violence, sometimes false pretences, to
establish his dominion over a people a hundred times more numerous
than his partisans. He allows no such open communication that his
enemies can know with certainty their number or force. He gives them no
leisure to assemble together in a body to oppose him. Even all those
who are the instruments of his usurpation may wish his fall, but their
ignorance of each other’s intentions keeps them in awe, and is the sole
cause of his security. By such arts as these many governments have been
established, and this is all the original contract they have to boast

The face of the earth is continually changing by the increase of small
kingdoms into great empires, by the dissolution of great empires into
smaller kingdoms, by the planting of colonies, by the migration of
tribes. Is there anything discoverable in all these events but force
and violence? Where is the mutual agreement or voluntary association so
much talked of?

Even the smoothest way by which a nation may receive a foreign master,
by marriage or a will, is not extremely honourable for the people; but
supposes them to be disposed of, like a dowry or a legacy, according to
the pleasure or interest of their rulers.

But where no force interposes, and election takes place, what is this
election so highly vaunted? It is either the combination of a few great
men who decide for the whole, and will allow no opposition, or it is
the fury of a rabble that follow a seditious leader, who is not known,
perhaps, to a dozen among them, and who owes his advancement merely to
his own impudence, or to the momentary caprice of his fellows.

Are these disorderly elections, which are rare too, of such
mighty authority as to be the only lawful foundation of all government
and allegiance?

In reality there is not a more terrible event than a total dissolution
of government, which gives liberty to the multitude, and makes the
determination or choice of a new establishment depend upon a number
which nearly approaches the body of the people; for it never comes
entirely to the whole body of them. Every wise man, then, wishes to
see, at the head of a powerful and obedient army, a general who may
speedily seize the prize and give to the people a master, which they
are so unfit to choose for themselves. So little correspondent is fact
and reality to those philosophical notions.

Let not the establishment at the Revolution deceive us, or make us so
much in love with a philosophical origin to government as to imagine
all others monstrous and irregular. Even that event was far from
corresponding to these refined ideas. It was only the succession,
and that only in the regal part of the government, which was then
changed; and it was only the majority of seven hundred who determined
that change for near ten millions. I doubt not, indeed, but the bulk
of these ten millions acquiesced willingly in the determination; but
was the matter left, in the least, to their choice? Was it not justly
supposed to be from that moment decided, and every man punished who
refused to submit to the new sovereign? How otherways could the matter
have ever been brought to any issue or conclusion?

The Republic of Athens was, I believe, the most extensive democracy
which we read of in history. Yet if we make the requisite allowances
for the women, the slaves, and the strangers, we shall find that
that establishment was not at first made, nor any law ever voted, by
a tenth part of those who were bound to pay obedience to it; not to
mention the islands and foreign dominions which the Athenians claimed
as theirs by right of conquest. And as it is well known that popular
assemblies in that city were always full of licence and disorder,
notwithstanding the forms and laws by which they were checked, how
much more disorderly must they be where they form not the established
constitution, but meet tumultuously on the dissolution of the ancient
government in order to give rise to a new one? How chimerical must it
be to talk of a choice in any such circumstances?

The Achæans enjoyed the freest and most perfect democracy of all
antiquity; yet they employed force to oblige some cities to enter into
their league, as we learn from Polybius.

Henry IV. and Henry VII. of England had really no other title to the
throne but a parliamentary election; yet they never would acknowledge
it, for fear of weakening their authority. Strange! if the only real
foundation of all authority be consent and promise.

It is vain to say that all governments are, or should be, at first,
founded on popular consent, as much as the necessity of human affairs
will admit. This favours entirely my pretension. I maintain that human
affairs will never admit of this consent; seldom of the appearance of
it. But that conquest or usurpation—that is, in plain terms, force—by
dissolving the ancient governments, is the origin of almost all the
new ones which ever were established in the world; and that in the few
cases, where consent may seem to have taken place, it was commonly so
irregular, so confined, or so much intermixed either with fraud or
violence, that it cannot have any great authority.

My intention here is not to exclude the consent of the people from
being one just foundation of government where it has place. It is
surely the best and most sacred of any. I only pretend that it has very
seldom had place in any degree, and never almost in its full extent;
and that therefore some other foundation of government must also be

Were all men possessed of so inflexible a regard to justice that, of
themselves, they would totally abstain from the properties of others,
they had for ever remained in a state of absolute liberty without
subjection to any magistrates or political society; but this
is a state of perfection, of which human nature is justly esteemed
incapable. Again, were all men possessed of so just an understanding
as always to know their own interest, no form of government had ever
been submitted to but what was established on consent, and was fully
canvassed by each member of the society; but this state of perfection
is likewise much superior to human nature. Reason, history, and
experience show us that all political societies have had an origin much
less accurate and regular; and were one to choose a period of time
when the people’s consent was least regarded in public transactions,
it would be precisely on the establishment of a new government. In a
settled constitution their inclinations are often studied; but during
the fury of revolutions, conquests, and public convulsions, military
force or political craft usually decides the controversy.

When a new government is established, by whatever means, the people are
commonly dissatisfied with it, and pay obedience more from fear and
necessity than from any idea of allegiance or of moral obligation. The
prince is watchful and jealous, and must carefully guard against every
beginning or appearance of insurrection. Time, by degrees, removes
all these difficulties, and accustoms the nation to regard, as their
lawful or native princes, that family whom at first they considered as
usurpers or foreign conquerors. In order to found this opinion, they
have no recourse to any notion of voluntary consent or promise, which,
they know, never was in this case either expected or demanded. The
original establishment was formed by violence, and submitted to from
necessity. The subsequent administration is also supported by power,
and acquiesced in by the people, not as a matter of choice, but of
obligation. They imagine not that their consent gives their prince a
title; but they willingly consent because they think that, from long
possession, he has acquired a title independent of their choice or

Should it be said that by living under the dominion of a prince
which one might leave, every individual has given a tacit consent to
his authority, and promised him obedience, it may be answered that
such implied consent can only take place where a man imagines that
the matter depends on his choice. But where he thinks (as all mankind
do who are born under established governments) that by his birth he
owes allegiance to a certain prince or certain government, it would be
absurd to infer a consent or choice, which he expressly, in this case,
renounces and abjures.

Can we seriously say that a poor peasant or artisan has a free choice
to leave his own country, when he knows no foreign language or manners,
and lives from day to day by the same small wages which he acquires?
We may as well assert that a man, by remaining in a vessel, freely
consents to the dominion of the master, though he was carried on board
while asleep, and must leap into the ocean and perish the moment he
leaves her.

What if the prince forbid his subjects to quit his dominions, as in
Tiberius’s time it was regarded as a crime in a Roman knight that he
had attempted to fly to the Parthians, in order to escape the tyranny
of that emperor? Or as the ancient Muscovites prohibited all travelling
under pain of death? And did a prince observe that many of his subjects
were seized with the frenzy of transporting themselves to foreign
countries, he would doubtless, with great reason and justice, restrain
them, in order to prevent the depopulation of his own kingdom. Would he
forfeit the allegiance of all his subjects by so wise and reasonable a
law? Yet the freedom of their choice is surely, in that case, ravished
from them.

A company of men who should leave their native country in order to
people some uninhabited region might dream of recovering their native
freedom; but they would soon find that their prince still laid claim to
them, and called them his subjects, even in their new settlement. And
in this he would but act conformably to the common ideas of mankind.

The truest tacit consent of this kind which is ever observed is when
a foreigner settles in any country, and is beforehand acquainted with
the prince and government and laws to which he must submit; yet is his
allegiance, though more voluntary, much less expected or depended on
than that of a natural born subject. On the contrary, his native prince
still asserts a claim to him. And if he punishes not the renegade when
he seizes him in war with his new prince’s commission, this clemency
is not founded on the municipal law, which in all countries condemns
the prisoner, but on the consent of princes who have agreed to this
indulgence in order to prevent reprisals.

Suppose a usurper, after having banished his lawful prince and royal
family, should establish his dominion for ten or a dozen years in any
country, and should preserve such exact discipline in his troops and so
regular a disposition in his garrisons that no insurrection had ever
been raised, or even murmur heard, against his administration, can it
be asserted that the people, who in their hearts abhor his treason,
have tacitly consented to his authority and promised him allegiance
merely because, from necessity, they live under his dominion? Suppose
again their natural prince restored, by means of an army which
he assembles in foreign countries, they receive him with joy and
exultation, and show plainly with what reluctance they had submitted to
any other yoke. I may now ask upon what foundation the prince’s title
stands? Not on popular consent surely; for though the people willingly
acquiesce in his authority, they never imagine that their consent makes
him sovereign. They consent because they apprehend him to be already,
by birth, their lawful sovereign. And as to that tacit consent, which
may now be inferred from their living under his dominion, this is no
more than what they formerly gave to the tyrant and usurper.

When we assert that all lawful government arises from the people,
we certainly do them more honour than they deserve, or even expect
and desire from us. After the Roman dominions became too unwieldy
for the republic to govern, the people over the whole known
world were extremely grateful to Augustus for that authority which,
by violence, he had established over them; and they showed an equal
disposition to submit to the successor whom he left them by his last
will and testament. It was afterwards their misfortune that there never
was in one family any long, regular succession; but that their line
of princes was continually broke, either by private assassination or
public rebellion. The prætorean bands, on the failure of every family,
set up one emperor, the legions in the East a second, those in Germany
perhaps a third; and the sword alone could decide the controversy. The
condition of the people in that mighty monarchy was to be lamented,
not because the choice of the emperor was never left to them, for that
was impracticable, but because they never fell under any succession of
masters, who might regularly follow each other. As to the violence and
wars and bloodshed occasioned by every new settlement, those were not
blameable, because they were inevitable.

The house of Lancaster ruled in this island about sixty years, yet the
partisans of the white rose seemed daily to multiply in England. The
present establishment has taken place during a still longer period.
Have all views of right in another family been extinguished, even
though scarce any man now alive had arrived at years of discretion
when it was expelled, or could have consented to its dominion, or have
promised it allegiance? A sufficient indication surely of the general
sentiment of mankind on this head. For we blame not the partisans
of the abdicated family merely on account of the long time during
which they have preserved their imaginary fidelity; we blame them for
adhering to a family which, we affirm, has been justly expelled, and
which, from the moment the new settlement took place, had forfeited all
title to authority.

But would we have a more regular, at least a more philosophical,
refutation of this principle of an original contract or popular
consent, perhaps the following observations may suffice.

All moral duties may be divided into two kinds. The first are those to
which men are impelled by a natural instinct or immediate propensity
which operates in them, independent of all ideas of obligation and of
all views, either to public or private utility. Of this nature are
love of children, gratitude to benefactors, pity to the unfortunate.
When we reflect on the advantage which results to society from such
humane instincts, we pay them the just tribute of moral approbation and
esteem; but the person actuated by them feels their power and influence
antecedent to any such reflection.

The second kind of moral duties are such as are not supported by any
original instinct of nature, but are performed entirely from a sense
of obligation, when we consider the necessities of human society and
the impossibility of supporting it if these duties were neglected. It
is thus justice or a regard to the property of others, fidelity or the
observance of promises, become obligatory and acquire an authority over
mankind. For as it is evident that every man loves himself better than
any other person, he is naturally impelled to extend his acquisitions
as much as possible; and nothing can restrain him in this propensity
but reflection and experience, by which he learns the pernicious
effects of that licence and the total dissolution of society which must
ensue from it. His original inclination, therefore, or instinct, is
here checked and restrained by a subsequent judgment or observation.

The case is precisely the same with the political or civil duty of
allegiance as with the natural duties of justice and fidelity. Our
primary instincts lead us either to indulge ourselves in unlimited
liberty or to seek dominion over others; and it is this reflection only
which engages us to sacrifice such strong passions to the interests
of peace and order. A very small degree of experience and observation
suffices to teach us that society cannot possibly be maintained without
the authority of magistrates, and that this authority must soon fall
into contempt where exact obedience is not paid to it. The observation
of these general and obvious interests is the source of all
allegiance, and of that moral obligation which we attribute to it.

What necessity, therefore, is there to found the duty of allegiance or
obedience to magistrates on that of fidelity or a regard to promises,
and to suppose that it is the consent of each individual which subjects
him to government, when it appears that both allegiance and fidelity
stand precisely on the same foundation, and are both submitted to by
mankind, on account of the apparent interests and necessities of human
society? We are bound to obey our sovereign, it is said, because we
have given a tacit promise to that purpose. But why are we bound to
observe our promise? It must here be asserted that the commerce and
intercourse of mankind, which are of such mighty advantage, can have no
security where men pay no regard to their engagements. In like manner
may it be said that men could not live at all in society, at least in a
civilized society, without laws and magistrates and judges to prevent
the encroachments of the strong upon the weak, of the violent upon the
just and equitable. The obligation to allegiance being of like force
and authority with the obligation to fidelity, we gain nothing by
resolving the one into the other. The general interests or necessities
of society are sufficient to establish both.

If the reason is asked of that obedience which we are bound to pay
to government, I readily answer, because society could not otherwise
subsist. And this answer is clear and intelligible to all mankind. Your
answer is, because we should keep our word. But besides that, nobody,
till trained in a philosophical system, can either comprehend or relish
this answer; besides this, I say, you find yourself embarrassed when it
is asked why we are bound to keep our word, and you can give no other
answer but what would immediately, without any circuit, have accounted
for our obligation to allegiance.

But to whom is allegiance due? And who are our lawful sovereigns?
This question is often the most difficult of any, and liable to
infinite discussions. When people are so happy that they can answer,
“Our present sovereign, who inherits, in a direct line, from
ancestors that have governed us for many ages,” this answer admits
of no reply, even though historians, in tracing up to the remotest
antiquity the origin of that royal family, may find, as commonly
happens, that its first authority was derived from usurpation and
violence. It is confessed that private justice, or the abstinence
from the properties of others, is a most cardinal virtue; yet reason
tells us that there is no property in durable objects, such as lands
or houses, when carefully examined in passing from hand to hand, but
must in some period have been founded on fraud and injustice. The
necessities of human society, neither in private nor public life, will
allow of such an accurate inquiry; and there is no virtue or moral duty
but what may with facility be refined away if we indulge in a false
philosophy, in sifting and scrutinizing it, by every captious rule of
logic, in every light or position in which it may be placed.

The questions with regard to public property have filled infinite
volumes of law and philosophy, if in both we add the commentators to
the original text; and in the end we may safely pronounce that many of
the rules there established are uncertain, ambiguous, and arbitrary.
The like opinion may be formed with regard to the successions and
rights of princes and forms of government. Many cases no doubt occur,
especially in the infancy of any government, which admit of no
determination from the laws of justice and equity; and our historian
Rapin allows that the controversy between Edward III. and Philip de
Valois was of this nature, and could be decided only by an appeal to
heaven—that is, by war and violence.

Who shall tell me whether Germanicus or Drusus ought to have succeeded
Tiberius had he died while they were both alive without naming either
of them for his successor? Ought the right of adoption to be received
as equivalent to that of blood in a nation where it had the same effect
in private families, and had already in two instances taken place in
the public? Ought Germanicus to be esteemed the eldest son because he
was born before Drusus, or the younger because he was adopted
after the birth of his brother? Ought the right of the elder to be
regarded in a nation where the eldest brother had no advantage in the
succession of private families? Ought the Roman Empire at that time to
be esteemed hereditary because of two examples, or ought it even so
early to be regarded as belonging to the stronger or present possessor
as being founded on so recent a usurpation?

Commodus mounted the throne after a pretty long succession of excellent
emperors, who had acquired their title, not by birth or public
election, but by the fictitious rite of adoption. That bloody debauchee
being murdered by a conspiracy suddenly formed between his wench and
her gallant, who happened at that time to be Prætorian Prefect, these
immediately deliberated about choosing a master to humankind, to speak
in the style of those ages; and they cast their eyes on Pertinax.
Before the tyrant’s death was known the Prefect went silently to that
senator, who, on the appearance of the soldiers, imagined that his
execution had been ordered by Commodus. He was immediately saluted
Emperor by the officer and his attendants; cheerfully proclaimed by the
populace; unwillingly submitted to by the guards; formally recognised
by the senate; and passively received by the provinces and armies of
the Empire.

The discontent of the Prætorian bands soon broke out in a sudden
sedition, which occasioned the murder of that excellent prince; and
the world being now without a master and without government, the
guards thought proper to set the Empire formally to sale. Julian, the
purchaser, was proclaimed by the soldiers, recognized by the senate,
and submitted to by the people, and must also have been submitted to
by the provinces had not the envy of the legions begot opposition and
resistance. Pescennius Niger in Syria elected himself Emperor, gained
the tumultuary consent of his army, and was attended with the secret
good-will of the senate and people of Rome. Albinus in Britain found an
equal right to set up his claim; but Severus, who governed Pannonia,
prevailed in the end above both of them. That able politician
and warrior, finding his own birth and dignity too much inferior to the
imperial crown, professed at first an intention only of revenging the
death of Pertinax. He marched as general into Italy, defeated Julian,
and without our being able to fix any precise commencement even of the
soldiers’ consent, he was from necessity acknowledged Emperor by the
senate and people, and fully established in his violent authority by
subduing Niger and Albinus.

“Inter hæc Gordianus Cæsar,” says Capitolinus, speaking of another
period, “sublatus a militibus, Imperator, est appellatus, quia non erat
alius in præsenti.” It is to be remarked that Gordian was a boy of
fourteen years of age.

Frequent instances of a like nature occur in the history of the
emperors; in that of Alexander’s successors, and of many other
countries. Nor can anything be more unhappy than a despotic government
of that kind, where the succession is disjointed and irregular, and
must be determined on every occasion by force or election. In a free
government the matter is often unavoidable, and is also much less
dangerous. The interests of liberty may there frequently lead the
people in their own defence to alter the succession of the crown,
and the constitution being compounded of parts, may still maintain a
sufficient stability by resting on the aristocratical or democratical
members, though the monarchical be altered from time to time in order
to accommodate it to the former.

In an absolute government when there is no legal prince who has a title
to the throne, it may safely be determined to belong to the first
occupier. Instances of this kind are but too frequent, especially in
the Eastern monarchies. When any race of princes expires the will or
destination of the last sovereign will be regarded as a title. Thus the
edict of Louis XIV., who called the bastard princes to the succession
in case of the failure of all the legitimate princes, would, in such
an event, have some authority.​[104] Thus the will of Charles
II. disposed of the whole Spanish monarchy. The cession of the ancient
proprietor, especially when joined to conquest, is likewise esteemed
a very good title. The general bond of obligation which unites us
to government is the interest and necessities of society, and this
obligation is very strong. The determination of it to this or that
particular prince or form of government is frequently more uncertain
and dubious. Present possession has considerable authority in these
cases, and greater than in private property, because of the disorders
which attend all revolutions and changes of government.​[105]

We shall only observe, before we conclude, that though an appeal to
general opinion may justly, in the speculative sciences of metaphysics,
natural philosophy, or astronomy, be esteemed unfair and inconclusive,
yet in all questions with regard to morals, as well as criticism, there
is really no standard by which any controversy can ever be decided.
And nothing is a clearer proof that a theory of this kind is erroneous
than to find that it leads to paradoxes which are repugnant to the
common sentiments of mankind and to general practice and opinion. The
doctrine which founds all lawful government on an original contract,
or consent of the people, is plainly of this kind; nor has the
ablest of its partisans in prosecution of it scrupled to affirm that
absolute monarchy is inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no
form of civil government at all,​[106] and that the supreme power in a
state cannot take from any man by taxes and impositions any part of his
property without his own consent or that of his representatives.​[107]
What authority any moral reasoning can have which leads to opinions so
wide of the general practice of mankind in every place but this single
kingdom it is easy to determine.​[108]


[103] Henry IV. of France.

[104] It is remarkable that in the remonstrance of the Duke
of Bourbon and the legitimate princes against this destination of
Louis XIV., the doctrine of the original contract is insisted on, even
in that absolute government. The French nation, say they, choosing
Hugh Capet and his posterity to rule over them and their posterity,
where the former line fails, there is a tacit right reserved to
choose a new royal family; and this right is invaded by calling the
bastard princes to the throne without the consent of the nation. But
the Comte de Boulainvilliers, who wrote in defence of the bastard
princes, ridicules this notion of an original contract, especially
when applied to Hugh Capet; who mounted the throne, says he, by
the same arts which have ever been employed by all conquerors and
usurpers. He got his title, indeed, recognized by the states after
he had put himself in possession. But is this a choice or contract?
The Comte de Boulainvilliers, we may observe, was a noted republican;
but being a man of learning, and very conversant in history, he knew
the people were never almost consulted in these revolutions and new
establishments, and that time alone bestowed right and authority on
what was commonly at first founded on force and violence. (See _État de
la France_, vol. iii.)

[105] The crime of rebellion amongst the ancients was commonly
marked by the terms νεωτεριζειν, _novas res moliri_.

[106] See Locke on Government, chap. 7, § 90.

[107] Locke on Government, chap. 11, § 138, 139, 140.

[108] The only passage I meet with in antiquity where the
obligation of obedience to government is ascribed to a promise is in
Plato—_in Critone_, where Socrates refuses to escape from prison,
because he had tacitly promised to obey the laws. Thus he builds a Tory
consequence of passive obedience on a Whig foundation of the original

New discoveries are not to be expected in these matters. If no
man, till very lately, ever imagined that government was founded
on contract, it is certain it cannot, in general, have any such


In the former essay we endeavoured to refute the speculative systems
of politics advanced in this nation, as well the religious system of
the one party as the philosophical of the other. We come now to examine
the practical consequences deduced by each party with regard to the
measures of submission due to sovereigns.

As the obligation to justice is founded entirely on the interests of
society, which require mutual abstinence from property, in order to
preserve peace among mankind, it is evident that, when the execution
of justice would be attended with very pernicious consequences, that
virtue must be suspended, and give place to public utility in such
extraordinary and such pressing emergencies. The maxim, _fiat
Justitia, ruat Cœlum_ (let justice be performed though the universe
be destroyed), is apparently false, and by sacrificing the end to
the means shows a preposterous idea of the subordination of duties.
What governor of a town makes any scruple of burning the suburbs
when they facilitate the advances of the enemy? Or what general
abstains from plundering a neutral country when the necessities of
war require it, and he cannot otherwise maintain his army? The case
is the same with the duty of allegiance; and common sense teaches
us, that as government binds us to obedience only on account of its
tendency to public utility, that duty must always, in extraordinary
cases, when public ruin would evidently attend obedience, yield to
the primary and original obligation. _Salus populi suprema Lex_ (the
safety of the people is the supreme law). This maxim is agreeable to
the sentiments of mankind in all ages; nor is any one, when he reads
of the insurrections against a Nero, or a Philip, so infatuated with
party-systems as not to wish success to the enterprise and praise the
undertakers. Even our high monarchical party, in spite of their sublime
theory, are forced in such cases to judge and feel and approve in
conformity to the rest of mankind.

Resistance, therefore, being admitted in extraordinary emergencies,
the question can only be among good reasoners with regard to the
degree of necessity which can justify resistance and render it lawful
or commendable. And here I must confess that I shall always incline
to their side who draw the bond of allegiance the closest possible,
and consider an infringement of it as the last refuge in desperate
cases when the public is in the highest danger from violence and
tyranny; for besides the mischiefs of a civil war, which commonly
attends insurrection, it is certain that where a disposition to
rebellion appears among any people it is one chief cause of tyranny
in the rulers, and forces them into many violent measures which they
never would have embraced had every one seemed inclined to submission
and obedience. It is thus the tyrannicide or assassination,
approved of by ancient maxims, instead of keeping tyrants and usurpers
in awe, made them ten times more fierce and unrelenting; and is now
justly, upon that account, abolished by the laws of nations, and
universally condemned as a base and treacherous method of bringing to
justice these disturbers of society.

Besides, we must consider that, as obedience is our duty in the
common course of things, it ought chiefly to be inculcated; nor can
anything be more preposterous than an anxious care and solicitude in
stating all the cases in which resistance may be allowed. Thus, though
a philosopher reasonably acknowledges in the course of an argument
that the rules of justice may be dispensed with in cases of urgent
necessity, what should we think of a preacher or casuist who should
make it his chief study to find out such cases and enforce them with
all the vehemence of argument and eloquence? Would he not be better
employed in inculcating the general doctrine than in displaying the
particular exceptions, which we are, perhaps, but too much inclined of
ourselves to embrace and extend?

There are, however, two reasons which may be pleaded in defence of that
party among us who have, with so much industry, propagated the maxims
of resistance—maxims which, it must be confessed, are in general so
pernicious and so destructive of civil society. The first is that their
antagonists carrying the doctrine of obedience to such an extravagant
height as not only never to mention the exceptions in extraordinary
cases (which might perhaps be excusable), but even positively to
exclude them, it became necessary to insist on these exceptions, and
defend the rights of injured truth and liberty. The second and perhaps
better reason is founded on the nature of the British constitution and
form of government.

It is almost peculiar to our constitution to establish a first
magistrate with such high pre-eminence and dignity that, though limited
by the laws, he is in a manner, so far as regards his own person, above
the laws, and can neither be questioned nor punished for any injury
or wrong which may be committed by him. His ministers alone,
or those who act by his commission, are obnoxious to justice; and
while the prince is thus allured by the prospect of personal safety
to give the laws their free course, an equal security is in effect
obtained by the punishment of lesser offenders, and at the same time a
civil war is avoided, which would be the infallible consequence were
an attack at every turn made directly upon the sovereign. But though
the constitution pays this salutary compliment to the prince, it can
never reasonably be understood by that maxim to have determined its
own destruction, or to have established a tame submission where he
protects his ministers, perseveres in injustice, and usurps the whole
power of the commonwealth. This case, indeed, is never expressly put by
the laws, because it is impossible for them in their ordinary course
to provide a remedy for it, or establish any magistrate with superior
authority to chastise the exorbitancies of the prince. But as a right
without remedy would be the greatest of all absurdities, the remedy in
this case is the extraordinary one of resistance, when affairs come
to that extremity that the constitution can be defended by it alone.
Resistance, therefore, must of course become more frequent in the
British Government than in others which are simpler and consist of
fewer parts and movements. Where the king is an absolute sovereign, he
has little temptation to commit such enormous tyranny as may justly
provoke rebellion; but where he is limited, his imprudent ambition,
without any great vices, may run him into that perilous situation.
This is commonly supposed to have been the case with Charles I., and
if we may now speak truth, after animosities are laid, this was also
the case with James II. These were harmless, if not, in their private
character, good men; but mistaking the nature of our constitution, and
engrossing the whole legislative power, it became necessary to oppose
them with some vehemence, and even to deprive the latter formally of
that authority which he had used with such imprudence and indiscretion.


To abolish all distinctions of party may not be practicable, perhaps
not desirable, in a free government. The only parties which are
dangerous are such as entertain opposite views with regard to the
essentials of government, the succession of the crown, or the
more considerable privileges belonging to the several members of
the constitution; where there is no room for any compromise or
accommodation, and where the controversy may appear so momentous as to
justify even an opposition by arms to the pretensions of antagonists.
Of this nature was the animosity continued for above a century between
the parties in England—an animosity which broke out sometimes into
civil war, which occasioned violent revolutions, and which continually
endangered the peace and tranquillity of the nation. But as there
has appeared of late the strongest symptoms of a universal desire to
abolish these party distinctions, this tendency to a coalition affords
the most agreeable prospect of future happiness, and ought to be
carefully cherished and promoted by every lover of his country.

There is not a more effectual method of promoting so good an end than
to prevent all unreasonable insult and triumph of the one party over
the other, to encourage moderate opinions, to find the proper medium
in all disputes, to persuade each that its antagonist may possibly be
sometimes in the right, and to keep a balance in the praise and blame
which we bestow on either side. The two former essays, concerning
the original contract and passive obedience, are calculated for this
purpose with regard to the philosophical controversies between the
parties, and tend to show that neither side are in these respects so
fully supported by reason as they endeavour to flatter themselves.
We shall proceed to exercise the same moderation with regard to the
historical disputes, by proving that each party was justified by
plausible topics, that there were on both sides wise men who
meant well to their country, and that the past animosity between the
factions had no better foundation than narrow prejudice or interested

The popular party, who afterwards acquired the name of Whigs, might
justify by very specious arguments that opposition to the crown, from
which our present free constitution is derived. Though obliged to
acknowledge that precedents in favour of prerogative had uniformly
taken place during many reigns before Charles I., they thought
that there was no reason for submitting any longer to so dangerous
an authority. Such might have been their reasoning. The rights of
mankind are so sacred that no prescription of tyranny or arbitrary
power can have authority sufficient to abolish them. Liberty is the
most inestimable of all blessings, and wherever there appears any
probability of recovering it, a nation may willingly run many hazards,
and ought not even to repine at the greatest effusion of blood or
dissipation of treasure. All human institutions, and none more than
government, are in continual fluctuation. Kings are sure to embrace
every opportunity of extending their prerogatives, and if favourable
incidents be not also laid hold of to extend and secure the privileges
of the people, a universal despotism must for ever prevail among
mankind. The example of all the neighbouring nations proves that
it is no longer safe to entrust with the crown the same exorbitant
prerogatives which had formerly been exercised during rude and simple
ages. And though the example of many late reigns may be pleaded in
favour of a power in the prince somewhat arbitrary, more remote reigns
afford instances of stricter limitations imposed on the crown, and
those pretensions of the Parliament, now branded with the title of
innovations, are only a recovery of the just rights of the people.

These views, far from being odious, are surely large and generous and
noble. To their prevalence and success the kingdom owes its liberty,
perhaps its learning, its industry, commerce, and naval power. By them
chiefly the English name is distinguished among the society
of nations, and aspires to a rivalship with that of the freest and
most illustrious commonwealths of antiquity. But as all these mighty
consequences could not reasonably be foreseen at the time when the
contest began, the royalists of that age wanted not specious arguments
on their side, by which they could justify their defence of the then
established prerogatives of the crown. We shall state the question, as
it might appear to them at the assembling of that Parliament, which by
their violent encroachments on the crown, began the civil wars.

The only rule of government, they might have said, known and
acknowledged among men, is use and practice. Reason is so uncertain
a guide that it will always be exposed to doubt and controversy.
Could it ever render itself prevalent over the people, men had always
retained it as their sole rule of conduct; they had still continued
in the primitive, unconnected state of nature, without submitting
to political government, whose sole basis is not pure reason, but
authority and precedent. Dissolve these ties, you break all the bonds
of civil society, and leave every man at liberty to consult his
particular interest, by those expedients which his appetite, disguised
under the appearance of reason, shall dictate to him. The spirit of
innovation is in itself pernicious, however favourable its particular
object may sometimes appear. A truth so obvious that the popular party
themselves are sensible of it, and therefore cover their encroachments
on the crown by the plausible pretence of their recovering the ancient
liberties of the people.

But the present prerogatives of the crown, allowing all the
suppositions of that party, have been incontestably established
ever since the accession of the house of Tudor, a period which,
as it now comprehends a hundred and sixty years, may be allowed
sufficient to give stability to any constitution. Would it not have
appeared ridiculous in the reign of the Emperor Adrian to talk of the
constitution of the republic as the rule of government, or to suppose
that the former rights of the senate and consuls and tribunes
were still subsisting?

But the present claims of the English monarchs are infinitely more
favourable than those of the Roman emperors during that age. The
authority of Augustus was a plain usurpation, grounded only on military
violence, and forms such an era in the Roman history as is obvious
to every reader. But if Henry VII. really, as some pretend, enlarged
the power of the crown, it was only by insensible acquisitions which
escaped the apprehension of the people, and have scarcely been remarked
even by historians and politicians. The new government, if it deserves
the name, is an imperceptible transition from the former; is entirely
engrafted on it; derives its title fully from that root; and is to be
considered only as one of those gradual revolutions to which human
affairs in every nation will be for ever subject.

The House of Tudor, and after them that of Stuart, exercised no
prerogatives, but what had been claimed and exercised by the
Plantagenets. Not a single branch of their authority can be said to
be altogether an innovation. The only difference is that perhaps the
more ancient kings exerted these powers only by intervals, and were not
able, by reason of the opposition of their barons, to render them so
steady a rule of administration.​[109] But the sole inference from this
fact is that those times were more turbulent and seditious, and that
the laws have happily of late gained the ascendant.

Under what pretence can the popular party now talk of recovering the
ancient constitution? The former control over the kings was not
placed in the commons, but in the barons. The people had no authority,
and even little or no liberty, till the crown, by suppressing these
factious tyrants, enforced the execution of the laws, and obliged all
the subjects equally to respect each other’s rights, privileges, and
properties. If we must return to the ancient barbarous and Gothic
constitution, let those gentlemen, who now behave themselves with so
much insolence to their sovereign, set the first example. Let them
make court to be admitted as retainers to a neighbouring baron, and by
submitting to slavery under him, acquire some protection to themselves,
together with the power of exercising rapine and oppression over their
inferior slaves and villains. This was the condition of the commons
among their remote ancestors.

But how far back shall we go, in having recourse to ancient
constitutions and governments? There was a constitution still more
ancient than that to which these innovators affect so much to appeal.
During that period there was no Magna Charta. The barons themselves
possessed few regular, stated privileges, and the House of Commons
probably had not an existence.

It is pleasant to hear a house, while they are usurping the whole
power of the government, talk of reviving ancient institutions. Is it
not known that, though the representatives received wages from their
constituents, to be a member of their house was always considered as
a burden, and a freedom from it as a privilege? Will they persuade us
that power, which of all human acquisitions is the most coveted, and
in comparison of which even reputation and pleasure and riches are
slighted, could ever be regarded as a burden by any man?

The property acquired of late by the commons, it is said, entitles
them to more power than their ancestors enjoyed. But to what is
this increase of their property owing, but to an increase of their
liberty and their security? Let them therefore acknowledge that their
ancestors, while the crown was restrained by the seditious barons,
really enjoyed less liberty than they themselves have attained,
after the sovereign acquired the ascendant, and let them enjoy that
liberty with moderation, and not forfeit it by new exorbitant claims,
and by rendering it a pretence for endless innovations.

The true rule of government is the present established practice of the
age. That has most authority, because it is recent. It is also better
known for the same reason. Who has assured those tribunes that the
Plantagenets did not exercise as high acts of authority as the Tudors?
The historians, they say, do not mention them; but the historians
are also silent with regard to the chief exertions of prerogative by
the Tudors. Where any power or prerogative is fully and undoubtedly
established, the exercise of it passes for a thing of course, and
readily escapes the notice of history and annals. Had we no other
monuments of Elizabeth’s reign than what are preserved even by Camden,
the most copious, judicious, and exact of our historians, we should be
entirely ignorant of the most important maxims of her government.

Was not the present monarchical government to its full extent
authorized by lawyers, recommended by divines, acknowledged by
politicians, acquiesced in—nay, passionately cherished—by the people in
general; and all this during a period of at least a hundred and sixty
years, and till of late, without the least murmur or controversy? This
general consent surely, during so long a time, must be sufficient to
render a constitution legal and valid. If the origin of all power be
derived, as is pretended, from the people, here is their consent in the
fullest and most ample terms that can be desired or imagined.

But the people must not pretend, because they can, by their consent,
lay the foundations of government, that therefore they are to be
permitted, at their pleasure, to overthrow and subvert them. There
is no end of these seditious and arrogant claims. The power of the
crown is now openly struck at; the nobility are also in visible peril;
the gentry will soon follow; the popular leaders, who will
then assume the name of gentry, will next be exposed to danger; and
the people themselves, having become incapable of civil government,
and lying under the restraint of no authority, must, for the sake of
peace, admit, instead of their legal and mild monarchs, a succession of
military and despotic tyrants.

These consequences are the more to be dreaded, as the present fury of
the people, though glossed over by pretensions to civil liberty, is in
reality incited by the fanaticism of religion, a principle the most
blind, headstrong, and ungovernable by which human nature can ever
possibly be actuated. Popular rage is dreadful, from whatever motive
derived, but must be attended with the most pernicious consequences
when it arises from a principle which disclaims all control by human
law, reason, or authority.

These are the arguments which each party may make use of to justify
the conduct of their predecessors during that great crisis. The
event has shown that the reasonings of the popular party were better
founded; but perhaps, according to the established maxims of lawyers
and politicians, the views of the royalists ought beforehand to have
appeared more solid, more safe, and more legal. But this is certain,
that the greater moderation we now employ in representing past events,
the nearer we shall be to produce a full coalition of the parties and
an entire acquiescence in our present happy establishment. Moderation
is of advantage to every establishment; nothing but zeal can overturn
a settled power, and an over-active zeal in friends is apt to beget a
like spirit in antagonists. The transition from a moderate opposition
against an establishment to an entire acquiescence in it is easy and

There are many invincible arguments which should induce the malcontent
party to acquiesce entirely in the present settlement of the
constitution. They now find that the spirit of civil liberty, though
at first connected with religious fanaticism, could purge itself from
that pollution, and appear under a more genuine and engaging aspect—a
friend to toleration, and an encourager of all the enlarged and
generous sentiments that do honour to human nature. They may observe
that the popular claims could stop at a proper period, and after
retrenching the exorbitant prerogatives of the crown, could still
maintain a due respect to monarchy, to nobility, and to all ancient
institutions. Above all, they must be sensible that the very principle
which made the strength of their party, and from which it derived
its chief authority, has now deserted them and gone over to their
antagonists. The plan of liberty is settled, its happy effects are
proved by experience, a long tract of time has given it stability, and
whoever would attempt to overturn it, and to recall the past government
or abdicated family, would, besides other more criminal imputations,
be exposed in their turn to the reproach of faction and innovation.
While they peruse the history of past events, they ought to reflect,
both that the rights of the crown are long since annihilated, and that
the tyranny and violence and oppression to which they often gave rise
are ills from which the established liberty of the constitution has now
at last happily protected the people. These reflections will prove a
better security to our freedom and privileges than to deny, contrary
to the clearest evidence of facts, that such regal powers ever had
any existence. There is not a more effectual method of betraying a
cause than to lay the strength of the argument on a wrong place, and
by disputing an untenable post inure the adversaries to success and


[109] The author believes that he was the first writer who advanced
that the family of Tudor possessed in general more authority than their
immediate predecessors—an opinion which, he hopes, will be supported by
history, but which he proposes with some diffidence. There are strong
symptoms of arbitrary power in some former reigns, even after signing
of the charters. The power of the crown in that age depended less on
the constitution than on the capacity and vigour of the prince who wore


I suppose that a member of Parliament in the reign of King William
or Queen Anne, while the establishment of the Protestant Succession
was yet uncertain, were deliberating concerning the party he would
choose in that important question, and weighing with impartiality
the advantages and disadvantages on each side. I believe the
following particulars would have entered into his consideration.

He would easily perceive the great advantages resulting from the
restoration of the Stuart family, by which we should preserve the
succession clear and undisputed, free from a pretender, with such a
specious title as that of blood, which with the multitude is always
the claim the strongest and most easily comprehended. It is in vain to
say, as many have done, that the question with regard to governors,
independent of government, is frivolous and little worth disputing,
much less fighting about. The generality of mankind never will enter
into these sentiments; and it is much happier, I believe, for society
that they do not, but rather continue in their natural prejudices and
prepossessions. How could stability be preserved in any monarchical
government (which, though perhaps not the best, is, and always has
been, the most common of any) unless men had so passionate a regard
for the true heir of their royal family, and even though he be weak in
understanding, or infirm in years, gave him so great a preference above
persons the most accomplished in shining talents or celebrated for
great achievements? Would not every popular leader put in his claim at
every vacancy, or even without any vacancy, and the kingdom become the
theatre of perpetual wars and convulsions? The condition of the Roman
Empire surely was not in this respect much to be envied, nor is that
of the Eastern nations, who pay little regard to the title of their
sovereigns, but sacrifice them every day to the caprice or momentary
humour of the populace or soldiery. It is but a foolish wisdom which
is so carefully displayed in under-valuing princes and placing them
on a level with the meanest of mankind. To be sure, an anatomist
finds no more in the greatest monarch than in the lowest peasant or
day-labourer, and a moralist may perhaps frequently find less. But
what do all these reflections tend to? We all of us still retain these
prejudices in favour of birth and family, and neither in our serious
occupations nor most careless amusements can we ever get entirely
rid of them. A tragedy that should represent the adventures
of sailors or porters, or even of private gentlemen, would presently
disgust us; but one that introduces kings and princes acquires in our
eyes an air of importance and dignity. Or should a man be able, by his
superior wisdom, to get entirely above such prepossessions, he would
soon, by means of the same wisdom, again bring himself down to them for
the sake of society, whose welfare he would perceive to be intimately
connected with them. Far from endeavouring to undeceive the people in
this particular, he would cherish such sentiments of reverence to their
princes as requisite to preserve a due subordination in society. And
though the lives of twenty thousand men be often sacrificed to maintain
a king in possession of his throne, or preserve the right of succession
undisturbed, he entertains no indignation at the loss on pretence that
every individual was perhaps in himself as valuable as the prince he
served. He considers the consequences of violating the hereditary right
of kings—consequences which may be felt for many centuries; while the
loss of several thousand men brings so little prejudice to a large
kingdom that it may not be perceived a few years afterwards.

The advantages of the Hanover succession are of an opposite nature,
and arise from this very circumstance, that it violates hereditary
right, and places on the throne a prince to whom birth gave no title
to that dignity. It is evident to any one who considers the history
of this island that the privileges of the people have during the last
two centuries been continually upon the increase, by the division of
the church-lands, by the alienations of the barons’ estates, by the
progress of trade, and above all by the happiness of our situation,
which for a long time gave us sufficient security without any standing
army or military establishment. On the contrary, public liberty
has, almost in every other nation of Europe, been during the same
period extremely upon the decline, while the people were disgusted
at the hardships of the old feudal militia, and chose rather to
entrust their prince with mercenary armies, which he easily turned
against themselves. It was nothing extraordinary, therefore, that
some of our British sovereigns mistook the nature of the
constitution and genius of the people; and as they embraced all the
favourable precedents left them by their ancestors, they overlooked
all those which were contrary, and which supposed a limitation in our
government. They were encouraged in this mistake by the example of all
the neighbouring princes, who, bearing the same title or appellation,
and being adorned with the same ensigns of authority, naturally led
them to claim the same powers and prerogatives.​[110] The flattery
of courtiers further blinded them, and above all that of the
clergy, who from several passages of Scripture, and these wrested too,
had erected a regular and avowed system of tyranny and despotic power.
The only method of destroying at once all these exorbitant claims and
pretensions was to depart from the true hereditary line, and choose
a prince who, being plainly a creature of the public, and receiving
the crown on conditions, expressed and avowed, found his authority
established on the same bottom with the privileges of the people.
By electing him in the royal line we cut off all hopes of ambitious
subjects who might in future emergencies disturb the government by
their cabals and pretensions; by rendering the crown hereditary in
his family we avoided all the inconveniences of elective monarchy;
and by excluding the lineal heir we secured all our constitutional
limitations, and rendered our government uniform and of a piece. The
people cherish monarchy because protected by it, the monarch favours
liberty because created by it. And thus every advantage is obtained
by the new establishment, as far as human skill and wisdom can extend

These are the separate advantages of fixing the succession, either in
the house of Stuart or in that of Hanover. There are also disadvantages
on each establishment, which an impartial patriot would ponder and
examine, in order to form a just judgment upon the whole.

The disadvantages of the Protestant Succession consist in the foreign
dominions which are possessed by the princes of the Hanover line, and
which it might be supposed would engage us in the intrigues and wars of
the Continent, and lose us in some measure the inestimable advantage we
possess of being surrounded and guarded by the sea which we command.
The disadvantages of recalling the abdicated family consist
chiefly in their religion, which is more prejudicial to society than
that established among us is contrary to it, and affords no toleration,
or peace, or security to any other religion.

It appears to me that all these advantages and disadvantages are
allowed on both sides; at least, by every one who is at all susceptible
of argument or reasoning. No subject, however loyal, pretends to deny
that the disputed title and foreign dominions of the present royal
family are a loss; nor is there any partisan of the Stuart family but
will confess that the claim of hereditary, indefeasible right, and the
Roman Catholic religion, are also disadvantages in that family. It
belongs, therefore, to a philosopher alone, who is of neither party,
to put all these circumstances in the scale and to assign to each of
them its proper poise and influence. Such a one will readily, at first,
acknowledge that all political questions are infinitely complicated,
and that there scarce ever occurs in any deliberation a choice which
is either purely good or purely ill. Consequences, mixed and varied,
may be foreseen to flow from every measure—and many consequences
unforeseen do always, in fact, result from it. Hesitation, and reserve,
and suspense are therefore the only sentiment he brings to this essay
or trial; or if he indulges any passion it is that of derision and
ridicule against the ignorant multitude, who are always clamorous and
dogmatical even in the nicest questions, of which, from want of temper,
perhaps still more than of understanding, they are altogether unfit

But to say something more determinate on this head, the following
reflections will, I hope, show the temper, if not the understanding of
a philosopher.

Were we to judge merely by first appearances and by past experience, we
must allow that the advantages of a parliamentary title of the house of
Hanover are much greater than those of an undisputed hereditary title
in the house of Stuart, and that our fathers acted wisely in preferring
the former to the latter. So long as the house of Stuart reigned in
Britain, which, with some interruption, was above eighty years,
the government was kept in a continual fever by the contentions between
the privileges of the people and the prerogatives of the crown. If
arms were dropped, the noise of disputes continued; or, if these were
silenced, jealousy still corroded the heart, and threw the nation into
an unnatural ferment and disorder. And while we were thus occupied in
domestic contentions, a foreign power, dangerous, if not fatal, to
public liberty, erected itself in Europe without any opposition from
us, and even sometimes with our assistance.

But during these last sixty years, when a parliamentary establishment
has taken place, whatever factions may have prevailed either among the
people or in public assemblies, the whole force of our constitution
has always fallen to one side, and an uninterrupted harmony has been
preserved between our princes and our parliaments. Public liberty, with
internal peace and order, has flourished almost without interruption;
trade and manufactures and agriculture have increased; the arts and
sciences and philosophy have been cultivated. Even religious parties
have been necessitated to lay aside their mutual rancour, and the glory
of the nation has spread itself all over Europe; while we stand the
bulwark against oppression, and the great antagonist of that power
which threatens every people with conquest and subjection. So long
and so glorious a period no nation almost can boast of; nor is there
another instance in the whole history of mankind that so many millions
of people have during such a space of time been held together in a
manner so free, so rational, and so suitable to the dignity of human

But though this recent instance seems clearly to decide in favour of
the present establishment, there are some circumstances to be thrown
into the other scale, and it is dangerous to regulate our judgment by
one event or example.

We have had two rebellions during the flourishing period above
mentioned, besides plots and conspiracies without number; and, if none
of these have produced any very fatal event, we may ascribe
our escape chiefly to the narrow genius of those princes who disputed
our establishment, and may esteem ourselves so far fortunate. But the
claims of the banished family, I fear, are not yet antiquated, and
who can foretell that their future attempts will produce no greater

The disputes between privilege and prerogative may easily be composed
by laws, and votes, and conferences, and concessions, where there is
tolerable temper or prudence on both sides, or on either side. Among
contending titles the question can only be determined by the sword, and
by devastation, and by civil war.

A prince who fills the throne with a disputed title dares not arm his
subjects, the only method of securing a people fully, both against
domestic oppression and foreign conquest.

Notwithstanding all our riches and renown, what a critical escape
did we lately make from dangers, which were owing, not so much to
bad conduct and ill success in war, as to the pernicious practice of
mortgaging our finances, and the still more pernicious maxim of never
paying off our encumbrances? Such fatal measures could never have been
embraced had it not been to secure a precarious establishment.​[111]

But to convince us that an hereditary title is to be embraced rather
than a parliamentary one, which is not supported by any other views
or motives, a man needs only transport himself back to the era of the
Restoration, and suppose that he had had a seat in that Parliament
which recalled the royal family, and put a period to the greatest
disorders that ever arose from the opposite pretensions of prince and
people. What would have been thought of one that had proposed at that
time to set aside Charles II. and settle the crown on the Duke of York
or Gloucester, merely in order to exclude all high claims like those of
their father and grandfather? Would not such a one have been
regarded as a very extravagant projector, who loved dangerous remedies,
and could tamper and play with a government and national constitution
like a quack with a sickly patient?

The advantages which result from a parliamentary title, preferably
to an hereditary one, though they are great, are too refined ever to
enter into the conception of the vulgar. The bulk of mankind would
never allow them to be sufficient for committing what would be regarded
as an injustice to the prince. They must be supported by some gross,
popular, and familiar topics; and wise men, though convinced of their
force, would reject them in compliance with the weakness and prejudices
of the people. An encroaching tyrant or deluded bigot alone, by his
misconduct, is able to enrage the nation and render practicable what
was always perhaps desirable.

In reality, the reason assigned by the nation for excluding the race
of Stuart, and so many other branches of the royal family, is not on
account of their hereditary title (which, however just in itself,
would, to vulgar apprehensions, have appeared altogether absurd),
but on account of their religion, which leads us to compare the
disadvantages above mentioned of each establishment.

I confess that, considering the matter in general, it were much to be
wished that our prince had no foreign dominions, and could confine all
his attention to the government of this island. For, not to mention
some real inconveniences that may result from territories on the
Continent, they afford such a handle for calumny and defamation as is
greedily seized by the people, who are always disposed to think ill
of their superiors. It must, however, be acknowledged that Hanover
is perhaps the spot of ground in Europe the least inconvenient for a
King of Britain. It lies in the heart of Germany, at a distance from
the Great Powers which are our natural rivals; it is protected by the
laws of the Empire as well as by the arms of its own sovereign, and it
serves only to connect us more closely with the house of Austria, which
is our natural ally.

In the last war it has been of service to us, by furnishing us with a
considerable body of auxiliary troops, the bravest and most faithful
in the world. The Elector of Hanover is the only considerable prince
in the Empire who has pursued no separate end, and has raised up no
stale pretensions during the late commotions of Europe, but has acted
all along with the dignity of a King of Britain. And ever since the
accession of that family it would be difficult to show any harm we have
ever received from the electoral dominions, except that short disgust
in 1718, with Charles XII., who, regulating himself by maxims very
different from those of other princes, made a personal quarrel of every
public injury.​[112]

The religious persuasion of the house of Stuart is an inconvenience
of a much deeper dye, and would threaten us with much more dismal
consequences. The Roman Catholic religion, with its huge train of
priests and friars, is vastly more expensive than ours. Even though
unaccompanied with its natural attendants of inquisitors, and stakes,
and gibbets, it is less tolerating; and not contented with dividing
the sacerdotal from the regal office (which must be prejudicial to
any state), it bestows the former on a foreigner, who has always a
separate, and may often have an opposite interest to that of the public.

But were this religion ever so advantageous to society, it is contrary
to that which is established among us, and which is likely to keep
possession for a long time of the minds of the people; and though it
is much to be hoped that the progress of reason and philosophy will,
by degrees, abate the virulent acrimony of opposite religions all over
Europe, yet the spirit of moderation has as yet made too slow advances
to be entirely trusted. The conduct of the Saxon family, where the
same person can be a Catholic King and Protestant Elector, is perhaps
the first instance in modern times of so reasonable and prudent a
behaviour. And the gradual progress of the Catholic superstition does,
even there, prognosticate a speedy alteration; after which it
is justly to be apprehended that the persecutions will put a speedy
period to the Protestant religion in the place of its nativity.

Thus, upon the whole, the advantages of the settlement in the family
of Stuart, which frees us from a disputed title, seem to bear some
proportion with those of the settlement in the family of Hanover,
which frees us from the claims of prerogative; but at the same time
its disadvantages, by placing on the throne a Roman Catholic, are much
greater than those of the other establishment, in settling the crown on
a foreign prince. What party an impartial patriot, in the reign of King
William or Queen Anne, would have chosen amidst these opposite views
may perhaps to some appear hard to determine. For my part, I esteem
liberty so invaluable a blessing in society, that whatever favours its
progress and security can scarce be too fondly cherished by every one
who is a lover of humankind.

But the settlement in the house of Hanover has actually taken place.
The princes of that family, without intrigue, without cabal, without
solicitation on their part, have been called to mount our throne by
the united voice of the whole legislative body. They have, since their
accession, displayed in all their actions the utmost mildness, equity,
and regard to the laws and constitution. Our own ministers, our own
parliaments, ourselves have governed us, and if aught ill has befallen
us we can only blame fortune or ourselves. What a reproach must we
become among nations if, disgusted with a settlement so deliberately
made, and whose conditions have been so religiously observed, we should
throw everything again into confusion, and by our levity and rebellious
disposition prove ourselves totally unfit for any state but that of
absolute slavery and subjection?

The greatest inconvenience attending a disputed title is that it brings
us in danger of civil wars and rebellions. What wise man, to avoid this
inconvenience, would run directly upon a civil war and rebellion? Not
to mention that so long possession, secured by so many laws, must ere
this time, in the apprehension of a great part of the nation,
have begot a title in the house of Hanover independent of their present
possession, so that now we should not, even by a revolution, obtain the
end of avoiding a disputed title.

No revolution made by national forces will ever be able, without some
other great necessity, to abolish our debts and encumbrances, in which
the interest of so many persons is concerned. And a revolution made
by foreign forces is a conquest—a calamity with which the precarious
balance of power threatens us, and which our civil dissensions are
likely, above all other circumstances, to bring upon us.


[110] It appears from the speeches and proclamations and whole train
of King James I.’s actions, as well as his son’s, that they considered
the English government as a simple monarchy, and never imagined that
any considerable part of their subjects entertained a contrary idea.
This made them discover their pretensions without preparing any force
to support them, and even without reserve or disguise, which are always
employed by those who enter upon any new project, or endeavour to
innovate in any government. King James told his Parliament plainly,
when they meddled in State affairs, “Ne sutor ultra crepidam.” He used
also at his table, in promiscuous companies, to advance his notions in
a manner still more undignified, as we may learn from a story told in
the life of Mr. Waller, and which that poet used frequently to repeat.
When Mr. Waller was young, he had the curiosity to go to court; and
he stood in the circle and saw King James dine where, amongst other
company, there sat at table two bishops. The King, openly and aloud,
proposed this question: “Whether he might not take his subjects’ money,
when he had occasion for it, without all this formality of Parliament?”
The one bishop readily replied, “God forbid you should not, for you are
the breath of our nostrils.” The other bishop declined answering, and
said he was not skilled in Parliamentary cases; but upon the King’s
urging him, and saying he would admit of no evasion, his lordship
replied very pleasantly, “Why, then, I think your Majesty may lawfully
take my brother’s money, for he offers it.” In Sir Walter Raleigh’s
preface to the _History of the World_ there is this remarkable passage:
“Philip II., by strong hand and main force, attempted to make himself
not only an absolute monarch over the Netherlands, like unto the kings
and sovereigns of England and France, but, Turk-like, to tread under
his feet all their natural and fundamental laws, privileges and ancient
rights.” Spenser, speaking of some grants of the English kings to the
Irish corporations, says: “All which, though at the time of their first
grant they were tolerable, and perhaps reasonable, yet now are most
unreasonable and inconvenient. But all these will easily be cut off
with the superior power of her Majesty’s prerogative, against which her
own grants are not to be pleaded or enforced.” (_State of Ireland_, p.
1537, edit. 1706.)

As these were very common, if not perhaps the universal notions of
the times, the two first princes of the house of Stuart were the more
excusable for their mistake. And Rapin, suitable to his usual malignity
and partiality, seems to treat them with too much severity upon account
of it.

[111] Those who consider how universal this pernicious practice of
funding has become all over Europe may perhaps dispute this last
opinion, but we lay under less necessity than other States.

[112] This was published in the year 1752.


Of all mankind there are none so pernicious as political projectors, if
they have power, nor so ridiculous if they want it; as, on the other
hand, a wise politician is the most beneficial character in nature if
accompanied with authority; and the most innocent, and not altogether
useless, even if deprived of it. It is not with forms of government
as with other artificial contrivances, where an old engine may be
rejected, if we can discover another more accurate and commodious, or
where trials may safely be made, even though the success be doubtful.
An established government has an infinite advantage, by that very
circumstance of its being established; the bulk of mankind being
governed by authority, not reason, and never attributing authority
to anything that has not the recommendation of antiquity. To tamper,
therefore, in this affair, or try projects merely upon the credit of
supposed argument and philosophy, can never be the part of a wise
magistrate, who will bear a reverence to what carries the marks of
age; and though he may attempt some improvements for the public good,
yet will he adjust his innovations as much as possible to the
ancient fabric, and preserve entire the chief pillars and supports of
the constitution.

The mathematicians in Europe have been much divided concerning that
figure of a ship which is the most commodious for sailing; and Huygens,
who at last determined this controversy, is justly thought to have
obliged the learned, as well as commercial world; though Columbus had
sailed to America, and Sir Francis Drake made the tour of the world,
without any such discovery. As one form of government must be allowed
more perfect than another, independent of the manners and humours of
particular men, why may we not inquire what is the most perfect of all,
though the common botched and inaccurate governments seem to serve
the purposes of society, and though it be not so easy to establish a
new government as to build a vessel upon a new plan? The subject is
surely the most worthy curiosity of any the wit of man can possibly
devise. And who knows, if this controversy were fixed by the universal
consent of the learned, but in some future age an opportunity might be
afforded of reducing the theory to practice, either by a dissolution
of the old governments, or the combination of men to form a new one in
some distant part of the world? In all cases it must be advantageous
to know what is most perfect in the kind, that we may be able to bring
any real constitution or form of government as near it as possible,
by such gentle alterations and innovations as may not give too great
disturbance to society.

All I pretend to in the present essay is to revive this subject of
speculation, and therefore I shall deliver my sentiments in as few
words as possible. A long dissertation on that head would not, I
apprehend, be very acceptable to the public, who will be apt to regard
such disquisitions both as useless and chimerical.

All plans of government which suppose great reformation in the manners
of mankind are plainly imaginary. Of this nature are the _Republic_ of
Plato and the _Utopia_ of Sir Thomas More. The _Oceana_ is the only
valuable model of a commonwealth that has as yet been offered to the

The chief defects of the _Oceana_ seem to be these—First, its rotation
is inconvenient, by throwing men, of whatever ability, by intervals,
out of public employments. Secondly, its Agrarian is impracticable.
Men will soon learn the art, which was practised in ancient Rome,
of concealing their possessions under other people’s names, till at
last the abuse will become so common, that they will throw off even
the appearance of restraint. Thirdly, the _Oceana_ provides not a
sufficient security for liberty, or the redress of grievances. The
senate must propose, and the people consent; by which means the
senate have not only a negative upon the people, but, what is of
infinitely greater consequence, their negative goes before the votes
of the people. Were the king’s negative of the same nature in the
English constitution, and could he prevent any bill from coming into
Parliament, he would be an absolute monarch. As his negative follows
the votes of the Houses, it is of little consequence; such a difference
is there in the manner of placing the same thing. When a popular bill
has been debated in the two Houses, is brought to maturity, all its
conveniences and inconveniences weighed and balanced, if afterwards
it be presented for the Royal assent, few princes will venture to
reject the unanimous desire of the people. But could the king crush
a disagreeable bill in embryo (as was the case, for some time, in
the Scots Parliament, by means of the Lords of the Articles) the
British Government would have no balance, nor would grievances ever
be redressed. And it is certain that exorbitant power proceeds not,
in any government, from new laws so much as from neglecting to remedy
the abuses which frequently rise from the old ones. A government, says
Machiavel, must often be brought back to its original principles. It
appears then, that in the _Oceana_ the whole legislature may be said to
rest in the senate; which Harrington would own to be an inconvenient
form of government, especially after the Agrarian is abolished.

Here is a form of government to which I cannot, in theory, discover any
considerable objection,

Let Great Britain and Ireland, or any territory of equal extent,
be divided into a hundred counties, and each county into a hundred
parishes, making in all ten thousand. If the country purposed to be
erected into a commonwealth be of more narrow extent, we may diminish
the number of counties; but never bring them below thirty. If it be of
greater extent, it were better to enlarge the parishes, or throw more
parishes into a county, than increase the number of counties.

Let all the freeholders of ten pounds a year in the country, and all
the householders worth two hundred pounds in the town parishes, meet
annually in the parish church, and choose, by ballot, some freeholder
of the county for their member, whom we shall call the county

Let the hundred county representatives, two days after their election,
meet in the county-town, and choose by ballot, from their own body, ten
county magistrates and one senator. There are, therefore, in the whole
commonwealth, one hundred senators, eleven hundred county magistrates,
and ten thousand county representatives; for we shall bestow on all
senators the authority of county magistrates, and on all county
magistrates the authority of county representatives.

Let the senators meet in the capital, and be endowed with the whole
executive power of the commonwealth; the power of peace and war, of
giving orders to generals, admirals, and ambassadors, and, in short,
all the prerogatives of a British king, except his negative.

Let the county representatives meet in their particular counties, and
possess the whole legislative power of the commonwealth; the greatest
number of counties deciding the question; and where these are equal,
let the senate have the casting vote.

Every new law must first be debated in the senate; and though rejected
by it, if ten senators insist and protest, it must be sent down to the
counties. The senate may join to the copy of the law their reasons for
receiving or rejecting it.

Because it would be troublesome to assemble all the county
representatives for every trivial law that may be requisite, the
senate have their choice of sending down the law either to the county
magistrates or county representatives.

The magistrates, though the law be referred to them, may, if they
please, call the representatives, and submit the affair to their

Whether the law be referred by the senate to the county magistrates
or representatives, a copy of it, and of the senate’s reasons, must
be sent to every representative eight days before the day appointed
for the assembling, in order to deliberate concerning it. And though
the determination be, by the senate, referred to the magistrates, if
five representatives of the county order the magistrates to assemble
the whole court of representatives, and submit the affair to their
determination, they must obey.

Either the county magistrates or representatives may give to the
senator of the county the copy of a law to be proposed to the senate;
and if five counties concur in the same order, the law, though
refused by the senate, must come either to the county magistrates or
representatives, as is contained in the order of the five counties.

Any twenty counties, by a vote either of their magistrates or
representatives, may throw any man out of all public offices for a
year. Thirty counties for three years.

The senate has a power of throwing out any member or number of members
of its own body, not to be re-elected for that year. The senate cannot
throw out twice in a year the senator of the same county.

The power of the old senate continues for three weeks after the
annual election of the county representatives. Then all the new
senators are shut up in a conclave, like the cardinals, and by an
intricate ballot, such as that of Venice or Malta, they choose the
following magistrates:—A protector, who represents the dignity of the
commonwealth and presides in the senate, two secretaries of state,
these six councils: a council of state, a council of religion and
learning, a council of trade, a council of laws, a council
of war, a council of the admiralty, each council consisting of five
persons; together with six commissioners of the treasury and a first
commissioner. All these must be senators. The senate also names all the
ambassadors to foreign courts, who may either be senators or not.

The senate may continue any or all of these, but must re-elect them
every year.

The protector and two secretaries have session and suffrage in the
council of state. The business of that council is all foreign politics.
The council of state has session and suffrage in all the other councils.

The council of religion and learning inspects the universities and
clergy. That of trade inspects everything that may affect commerce.
That of laws inspects all the abuses of laws by the inferior
magistrates, and examines what improvements may be made of the
municipal law. That of war inspects the militia and its discipline,
magazines, stores, etc., and when the republic is in war, examines into
the proper orders for generals. The council of admiralty has the same
power with regard to the navy, together with the nomination of the
captains and all inferior officers.

None of these councils can give orders themselves, except where
they receive such powers from the senate. In other cases, they must
communicate everything to the senate.

When the senate is under adjournment, any of the councils may assemble
it before the day appointed for its meeting.

Besides these councils or courts, there is another called the court
of competitors, which is thus constituted:—If any candidates for the
office of senator have more votes than a third of the representatives,
that candidate who has most votes next to the senator elected,
becomes incapable for one year of all public offices, even of being a
magistrate or representative; but he takes his seat in the court of
competitors. Here then is a court which may sometimes consist of a
hundred members, sometimes have no members at all, and by that means be
for a year abolished.

The court of competitors has no power in the commonwealth. It has
only the inspection of the public accounts and the accusing any man
before the senate. If the senate acquit him, the court of competitors
may, if they please, appeal to the people, either magistrates or
representatives. Upon that appeal the magistrates or representatives
meet at the day appointed by the court of competitors, and choose in
each county three persons, from which number every senator is excluded.
These to the number of three hundred meet in the capital, and bring the
person accused to a new trial.

The court of competitors may propose any law to the senate, and if
refused, may appeal to the people—that is to the magistrates or
representatives, who examine it in their counties. Every senator who is
thrown out of the senate by a vote of the court, takes his seat in the
court of competitors.

The senate possesses all the judicative authority of the House of
Lords—that is, all the appeals from the inferior courts. It likewise
nominates the Lord Chancellor and all the officers of the law.

Every county is a kind of republic within itself, and the
representatives may make county-laws, which have no authority until
three months after they are voted. A copy of the law is sent to the
senate and to every other county. The senate or any single county may
at any time annul any law of another county.

The representatives have all the authority of the British justices of
peace in trials, commitments, etc.

The magistrates have the nomination of all the officers of the revenue
in each county. All causes with regard to the revenue are appealed
ultimately to the magistrates. They pass the accounts of all the
officers, but must have all their own accounts examined and passed at
the end of the year by the representatives.

The magistrates name rectors or ministers to all the parishes.

The Presbyterian government is established, and the highest
ecclesiastical court is an assembly or synod of all the presbyters of
the county. The magistrates may take any cause from this court, and
determine it themselves.

The magistrates may try and depose or suspend any presbyter.

The militia is established in imitation of that of Switzerland, which,
being well known, we shall not insist upon it. It will only be proper
to make this addition, that an army of 20,000 men be annually drawn out
by rotation, paid and encamped during six weeks in summer, that the
duty of a camp may not be altogether unknown.

The magistrates nominate all the colonels and downwards. The senate all
upwards. During war, the general nominates the colonel and downwards,
and his commission is good for a twelvemonth; but after that, it must
be confirmed by the magistrates of the county to which the regiment
belongs. The magistrates may break any officer in the county regiment,
and the senate may do the same to any officer in the service. If the
magistrates do not think proper to confirm the general’s choice, they
may nominate another officer in the place of him they reject.

All crimes are tried within the county by the magistrates and a jury;
but the senate can stop any trial, and bring it before themselves.

Any county may indict any man before the senate for any crime.

The protector, the two secretaries, the council of state, with any
five more that the senate appoints on extraordinary emergencies, are
possessed of dictatorial power for six months.

The protector may pardon any person condemned by the inferior courts.

In time of war, no officer of the army that is in the field can have
any civil office in the commonwealth.

The capital, which we shall call London, may be allowed four
members in the senate. It may therefore be divided into four
counties. The representatives of each of these choose one senator
and ten magistrates. There are therefore in the city four
senators, forty-four magistrates, and four hundred representatives.
The magistrates have the same authority as in the counties. The
representatives also have the same authority; but they never meet in
one general court. They give their votes in their particular county or
division of hundreds.

When they enact any city-law, the greatest number of counties or
divisions determines the matter; and where these are equal, the
magistrates have the casting vote.

The magistrates choose the mayor, sheriff, recorder, and other officers
of the city.

In the commonwealth, no representative, magistrate, or senator, as
such, has any salary. The protector, secretaries, councils, and
ambassadors have salaries.

The first year in every century is set apart to correct all
inequalities which time may have produced in the representative. This
must be done by the legislature.

The following political aphorisms may explain the reason of these

The lower sort of people and small proprietors are good enough judges
of one not very distant from them in rank or habitation, and therefore,
in their parochial meetings, will probably choose the best, or nearly
the best representative; but they are wholly unfit for county-meetings
and for electing into the higher offices of the republic. Their
ignorance gives the grandees an opportunity of deceiving them.

Ten thousand, even though they were not annually elected, are a large
enough basis for any free government. It is true the nobles in Poland
are more than 10,000, and yet these oppress the people; but as power
continues there always in the same persons and families, this makes
them, in a manner, a different nation from the people. Besides, the
nobles are there united under a few heads of families.

All free governments must consist of two councils, a less and a
greater; or, in other words, of a senate and people. The people, as
Harrington observes, would want wisdom without the senate; the senate
without the people would want honesty.

A large assembly of 1000, for instance, to represent the people,
if allowed to debate, would fall into disorder. If not allowed to
debate, the senate has a negative upon them, and the worst kind of
negative—that before resolution.

Here therefore is an inconvenience which no government has yet fully
remedied, but which is the easiest to be remedied in the world. If the
people debate, all is confusion; if they do not debate, they can only
resolve, and then the senate carves for them. Divide the people into
many separate bodies, and then they may debate with safety, and every
inconvenience seems to be prevented.

Cardinal de Retz says that all numerous assemblies, however composed,
are mere mob, and swayed in their debates by the least motive. This we
find confirmed by daily experience. When an absurdity strikes a member,
he conveys it to his neighbour, and so on till the whole be infected.
Separate this great body, and though every member be only of middling
sense, it is not probable that anything but reason can prevail over the
whole. Influence and example being removed, good sense will always get
the better of bad among a number of people. Good sense is one thing;
but follies are numberless, and every man has a different one. The only
way of making a people wise is to keep them from uniting into large

There are two things to be guarded against in every senate—its
combination and its division. Its combination is most dangerous, and
against this inconvenience we have provided the following remedies:—1.
The great dependence of the senators on the people by annual election,
and that not by an undistinguishing rabble, like the English electors,
but by men of fortune and education. 2. The small power they are
allowed. They have few offices to dispose of. Almost all are given by
the magistrates in the counties. 3. The court of competitors which,
being composed of men that are their rivals next to them in interest
and uneasy in their present situation, will be sure to take all
advantages against them.

The division of the senate is prevented—1. By the smallness
of their number. 2. As faction supposes a combination to a separate
interest, it is prevented by their dependence on the people. 3. They
have a power of expelling any factious member. It is true when another
member of the same spirit comes from the county, they have no power of
expelling him; nor is it fit they should, for that shows the humour to
be in the people, and probably arises from some ill-conduct in public
affairs. 4. Almost any man in a senate so regularly chosen by the
people may be supposed fit for any civil office. It would be proper,
therefore, for the senate to form some general resolutions with regard
to the disposing of offices among the members, which resolutions would
not confine them in critical times, when extraordinary parts on the one
hand, or extraordinary stupidity on the other, appears in any senator;
but yet they would be sufficient to prevent intrigue and faction, by
making the disposal of the offices a thing of course. For instance, let
it be a resolution:—That no man shall enjoy any office till he has sat
four years in the senate; that, except ambassadors, no man shall be in
office two years following; that no man shall attain the higher offices
but through the lower; that no man shall be protector twice, etc. The
senate of Venice govern themselves by such resolutions.

In foreign politics the interest of the senate can scarce ever be
divided from that of the people, and therefore it is fit to make
the senate absolute with regard to them, otherwise there could be
no secrecy nor refined policy. Besides, without money no alliance
can be executed, and the senate is still sufficiently dependent. Not
to mention that the legislative power being always superior to the
executive, the magistrates or representatives may interpose, whenever
they think proper.

The chief support of the British Government is the Opposition of
interests; but that, though in the main serviceable, breeds endless
factions. In the foregoing plan, it does all the good without any of
the harm. The competitors have no power of controlling the senate; they
have only the power of accusing and appealing to the people.

It is necessary, likewise, to prevent both combination and division in
the thousand magistrates. This is done sufficiently by the separation
of places and interests.

But lest that should not be enough, their dependence on the 10,000 for
their elections serves to the same purpose.

Nor is that all: for the 10,000 may resume the power whenever they
please; and not only when they all please, but when any five of a
hundred please, which will happen upon the very first suspicion of a
separate interest.

The 10,000 are too large a body either to unite or divide, except
when they meet in one place, and fall under the guidance of ambitious
leaders. Not to mention their annual election by the whole body of the
people that are of any consideration.

A small commonwealth is the happiest government in the world within
itself, because everything lies under the eye of the rulers; but it may
be subdued by great force from without. This scheme seems to have all
the advantages both of a great and a little commonwealth.

Every county-law may be annulled either by the senate or another
county, because that shows an opposition of interest: in which case no
part ought to decide for itself. The matter must be referred to the
whole, which will best determine what agrees with general interest.

As to the clergy and militia, the reasons of these orders are obvious.
Without the dependence of the clergy on the civil magistrates, and
without a militia, it is folly to think any free government will ever
have security or stability.

In many governments the inferior magistrates have no rewards but what
arise from their ambition, vanity, or public spirit. The salaries of
the French judges amount not to the interest of the sums they pay
for their offices. The Dutch burgomasters have little more immediate
profit than the English justices of peace, or the members of the
House of Commons formerly. But lest any should suspect that this
would beget negligence in the administration (which is little to be
feared, considering the natural ambition of mankind), let the
magistrates have competent salaries. The senators have access to so
many honourable and lucrative offices that their attendance needs not
be bought. There is little attendance required of the representatives.

That the foregoing plan of government is practicable no one can
doubt, who considers the resemblance it bears to the commonwealth of
the United Provinces, formerly one of the wisest and most renowned
governments in the world. The alterations in the present scheme are all
evidently to the better. 1. The representation is more equal. 2. The
unlimited power of the burgomasters in the towns, which forms a perfect
aristocracy in the Dutch commonwealth, is corrected by a well-tempered
democracy, in giving to the people the annual election of the county
representatives. 3. The negative, which every province and town has
upon the whole body of the Dutch republic, with regard to alliances,
peace and war, and the imposition of taxes, is here removed. 4. The
counties, in the present plan, are not so independent of each other,
nor do they form separate bodies so much as the seven provinces; where
the jealousy and envy of the smaller provinces and towns against the
greater, particularly Holland and Amsterdam, have frequently disturbed
the government. 5. Larger powers, though of the safest kind, are
entrusted to the senate than the States-General possess; by which means
the former may become more expeditious and secret in their resolutions
than it is possible for the latter.

The chief alterations that could be made on the British Government, in
order to bring it to the most perfect model of living monarchy, seem to
be the following:—First, The plan of the Republican Parliament ought
to be restored, by making the representation equal, and by allowing
none to vote in the county elections who possess not a property of 200
pounds value. Secondly, As such a House of Commons would be too weighty
for a frail House of Lords like the present, the bishops and Scots
peers ought to be removed, whose behaviour, in former Parliaments,
destroyed entirely the authority of that House. The number of the
Upper House ought to be raised to three or four hundred; their
seats not hereditary, but during life. They ought to have the election
of their own members; and no commoner should be allowed to refuse a
seat that was offered him. By this means the House of Lords would
consist entirely of the men of chief credit, ability, and interest
of the nation; and every turbulent leader in the House of Commons
might be taken off and connected in interest with the House of Peers.
Such an aristocracy would be a splendid barrier both to the monarchy
and against it. At present the balance of our Government depends in
some measure on the ability and behaviour of the sovereign, which are
variable and uncertain circumstances.

I allow that this plan of limited monarchy, however corrected, is still
liable to three great inconveniences. First, it removes not entirely,
though it may soften, the parties of court and country; secondly, the
king’s personal character must still have a great influence on the
Government; thirdly, the sword is in the hands of a single person,
who will always neglect to discipline the militia, in order to have a
pretence for keeping up a standing army. It is evident that this is
a mortal distemper in British Government, of which it must at last
inevitably perish. I must, however, confess that Sweden seems in some
measure to have remedied this inconvenience, and to have a militia,
with its limited monarchy, as well as a standing army, which is less
dangerous than the British.

We shall conclude this subject with observing the falsehood of the
common opinion that no large state, such as France or Britain,
could ever be modelled into a commonwealth, but that such a form
of government can only take place in a city or small territory.
The contrary seems evident. Though it is more difficult to form a
republican government in an extensive country than in a city, there
is more facility, when once it is formed, of preserving it steady and
uniform, without tumult and faction. It is not easy for the distant
parts of a large state to combine in any plan of free government; but
they easily conspire in the esteem and reverence of a single
person, who, by means of this popular favour, may seize the power,
and forcing the more obstinate to submit, may establish a monarchical
government. On the other hand, a city readily concurs in the same
notions of government, the natural equality of property favours
liberty, and the nearness of habitation enables the citizens mutually
to assist each other. Even under absolute princes the subordinate
government of cities is commonly republican; while that of counties
and provinces is monarchical. But these same circumstances, which
facilitate the erection of commonwealths in cities, render their
constitution more frail and uncertain. Democracies are turbulent. For
however the people may be separated or divided into small parties,
either in their votes or elections, their near habitation in a
city will always make the force of popular tides and currents very
sensible. Aristocracies are better adapted for peace and order, and
accordingly were most admired by ancient writers; but they are jealous
and oppressive. In a large government, which is modelled with masterly
skill, there is compass and room enough to refine the democracy from
the lower people, who may be admitted into the first elections or first
concoction of the commonwealth to the higher magistrates who direct all
the movements. At the same time, the parts are so distant and remote
that it is very difficult, either by intrigue, prejudice, or passion,
to hurry them into any measures against the public interest.

It is needless to inquire whether such a government would be immortal.
I allow the justness of the poet’s exclamation on the endless projects
of human race, “Man and for ever!” The world itself probably is not
immortal. Such consuming plagues may arise as would leave even a
perfect government a weak prey to its neighbours. We know not to what
lengths enthusiasm or other extraordinary motions of the human mind
may transport men, to the neglect of all order and public good. Where
difference of interest is removed, whimsical and unaccountable factions
often arise from personal favour or enmity. Perhaps rust may grow to
the springs of the most accurate political machine and disorder
its motions. Lastly, extensive conquests, when pursued, must be the
ruin of every free government; and of the more perfect governments
sooner than of the imperfect, because of the very advantages which
the former possess above the latter. And though such a state ought
to establish a fundamental law against conquests, yet republics have
ambition as well as individuals, and present interest makes men
forgetful of their posterity. It is a sufficient incitement to human
endeavours that such a government would flourish for many ages, without
pretending to bestow on any work of man that immortality which the
Almighty seems to have refused to his own productions.


It is a question with many 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?​[113] 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, everything seemed
to be totally changed; and all from the difference of the temper and
sentiments of these two sovereigns. An equal difference of a contrary
kind may be found on comparing the reigns of Elizabeth and James—at
least with regard to foreign affairs; and instances of this kind may be
multiplied almost without number from ancient as well as modern history.

But here I would beg leave to make a distinction. All absolute
governments (and such, in a great measure, was that of England till the
middle of the last century, notwithstanding the numerous panegyrics on
ancient English liberty) must very much depend on the administration;
and this is one of the great inconveniences of that form of government.
But a republican and free government would be a most 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 operate 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 sources 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 be deduced from
them on most occasions as any which the mathematical sciences
afford us.

The Roman government gave the whole legislative power to the commons,
without allowing a negative either to the nobility or consuls. This
unbounded power the commons 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 who 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 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 peculiar hereditary authority
over his vassals, and the whole body has no authority but what it
receives from the concurrence of its parts. The distinct operations
and tendencies of these two species of government might be made most
apparent even _à priori_. A Venetian nobility is infinitely 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 interest 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 doge, prince, or king—shall possess a very 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, from
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 regarded, in his elevation, without exciting the
sentiments 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 their sovereign.

It may therefore be pronounced as a universal axiom in politics that
a 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 character.

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 no less careful to prevent
all particular acts of oppression on the one as on 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
so to contrive matters, by restrictions of trade and by taxes, 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 and interest; 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 interest 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 of Rome whose
protection they stand in need of.” 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 Anthony 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 very careful to prevent
all oppression of 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 ground, 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 always find the observation to hold. The
provinces of absolute monarchies are always better treated than those
of free states. Compare the _Païs 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 purpose.

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 settled so peaceably by his successors,
and that the Persians, during all the confusions and civil wars of
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 power so far as to
leave no distinction of ranks 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 our 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 of the victors
will encourage the vanquished to take arms, who have leaders ready to
prompt and conduct them in every undertaking.​[114]

Such is the reasoning of Machiavel, which seems to me very solid and
conclusive, though I wish he had not mixed falsehood with truth in
asserting that monarchies governed according to the 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 sovereign;
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 which 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 anything 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 difference 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 the 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 devoid of it. A man who loves only
himself, without regard to friendship and merit, is a detestable
monster; 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 enough of zealots on both sides who kindle up the passions
of their partisans, and under the 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

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 mal-administration is ascribed to him. To aggravate the
charge, his pernicious conduct, it is said, will extend its baleful
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 for 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 a most extraordinary ferment on
both sides, and fill the nation with the most 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—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 of 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 constitution in the
world. A constitution is only so far good as it provides a remedy
against mal-administration, and if the British constitution, 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 in its place a better constitution.

I would make use of 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 wife
from the stews, should be watchful to prevent her infidelity. Public
affairs in such a constitution must necessarily go to confusion,
by whatever hands they are conducted, and the zeal of patriots is
much less requisite in that case than the patience and submission of
philosophers. The virtue and good intentions of Cato and Brutus are
highly laudable, but to what purpose did their zeal serve? To nothing
but 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 mal-administration 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.​[115]

I have not here considered anything that is personal in the present
controversy. In the best civil constitution, 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 deserves 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 flattery.



    “For forms of government let fools contest;
    Whate’er is best administer’d is best.”

    _Essay on Man_, Book iii.

[114] 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
ὁμοτιμοι 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. 2). 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 (Herod., lib.
7, cap. 62). Artachæas, 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 (Herod., lib. 3; Thuc., lib. 1). Rosaces, who commanded an army
in Egypt under Artaxerxes, was also descended from one of the seven
conspirators (Diod. Sic., lib. 16). Agesilaus (in Xenophon, _Hist.
Græc._ lib. 4), 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 rank 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. 2). Some of the families,
descended from the seven Persians above mentioned, remained during
all Alexander’s successors; and Mithridates, in Antiochus’s time, is
said by Polybius to be descended from one of them (lib. 5, cap. 43).
Artabazus was esteemed, as Arrian says, εν τοις πρωτοις Περσων (lib.
3). And when Alexander married in one day eighty of his captains to
Persian women, his intention plainly was to ally the Macedonians with
the most eminent Persian families (_id._, lib. 7). Diodorus Siculus
says they were of the most noble birth in Persia (lib. 17). 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 was in itself just,
however doubtful its application to the present case.

[115] What our author’s opinion was of the famous minister here pointed
at may be learned from that essay, printed in the former editions,
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 written 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 credit
with posterity, and to show that our liberty has, once at least, been
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 a hundred thousand, upon the same subject, that have
perished and become useless. In the meantime, 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.​[116] 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 pleasure.”

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
those 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

[116] Moderate in the exercise of power, not equitable in engrossing it.


Nothing is more surprising to those who consider human affairs with
a philosophical eye, than to see the easiness with which the many
are governed by the few; and to observe the implicit submission with
which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their
rulers. When we inquire by what means this wonder is brought about, 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—viz., opinion of interest and opinion of
right. By opinion of interest, I chiefly understand the sense of the
public 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. 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 but of a very limited understanding. 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 any 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 both these contradictory appearances.

It is sufficiently understood that the opinion of right to property is
of the greatest 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, or at least be hoped for, in order
to produce this expectation. The prospect of reward may augment the
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 further power he
possesses must be founded either on our 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 be
antecedently 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 agree. This chiefly happens where
any rank or order of the state has acquired a large share of the
property, but from the original constitution of the government has no
share of the power. Under what pretext 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 the 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 England.

Most writers who have treated of the British Government have supposed
that as the House of Commons represents all the commons of Great
Britain, so 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 of the
House 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 the whole commons of Britain were brought
into the scale, it is not easy to conceive that the Crown could either
influence the multitude of people or withstand that overbalance of
property. It is true the Crown has great influence over the collective
body of Britain 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 more
susceptible both of reason and order; the force of popular currents
and tides is in a great measure broken; and the public interest 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 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.


Had every man sufficient sagacity to perceive at all times the strong
interest which binds him to the observance of justice and equity, and
strength of mind sufficient to persevere in a steady adherence to a
general and a distant interest, in opposition to the allurements of
present pleasure and advantage—there had never, in that case, been any
such thing as government or political society, but each man following
his natural liberty had lived in entire peace and harmony with all
others. What need of positive laws where natural justice is, of itself,
a sufficient restraint? Why create magistrates where there never arises
any disorder or iniquity? Why abridge our native freedom when, in every
instance, the utmost exertion of it is found innocent and beneficial?
It is evident that if government were totally useless it never could
have place, and that the sole foundation of the duty of allegiance is
the advantage which it procures to society by preserving peace and
order among mankind.

When a number of political societies are erected, and maintain a
great intercourse together, a new set of rules are immediately
discovered to be useful in that particular situation, and
accordingly take place under the title of “Laws of Nations.” Of this
kind are the sacredness of the persons of ambassadors, abstaining from
poisoned arms, quarter in war, with others of that kind, which are
plainly calculated for the advantage of states and kingdoms in their
intercourse with each other.

The rules of justice, such as prevail among individuals, are not
entirely suspended among political societies. All princes pretend a
regard to the rights of others; and some, no doubt, without hypocrisy.
Alliances and treaties are every day made between independent states,
which would only be so much waste of parchment if they were not found,
by experience, to have some influence and authority. But here is the
difference between kingdoms and individuals. Human nature cannot by
any means subsist without the association of individuals; and that
association never could have place were no regard paid to the laws
of equity and justice. Disorder, confusion, the war of all against
all, are the necessary consequences of such a licentious conduct.
But nations can subsist without intercourse. They may even subsist,
in some degree, under a general war. The observance of justice,
though useful among them, is not guarded by so strong a necessity as
among individuals; and the moral obligation holds proportion with
the usefulness. All politicians will allow, and most philosophers,
that reasons of state may, in particular emergencies, dispense with
the rules of justice, and invalidate any treaty or alliance where
the strict observance of it would be prejudicial in a considerable
degree to either of the contracting parties. But nothing less than the
extremest necessity, it is confessed, can justify individuals in a
breach of promise, Or an invasion of the properties of others.

In a confederated commonwealth, such as the Achæan Republic of old, or
the Swiss Cantons and United Provinces in modern times; as the league
has here a peculiar utility, the conditions of union have a peculiar
sacredness and authority, and a violation of them would be equally
criminal, Or even more criminal than any private injury or injustice.

The long and helpless infancy of man requires the combination of
parents for the subsistence of their young, and that combination
requires the virtue of chastity or fidelity to the marriage-bed.
Without such a utility, it will readily be owned that such a virtue
would never have been thought of.

An infidelity of this nature is much more pernicious in women than in
men; hence the laws of chastity are much stricter over the one sex than
over the other.

These rules have all a reference to generation, and yet women past
child-bearing are no more supposed to be exempted from them than those
in the flower of their youth and beauty. General rules are often
extended beyond the principle whence they first arise, and this holds
in all matters of taste and sentiment. It is a vulgar story at Paris
that during the rage of the Mississippi a hump-backed fellow went
every day into the Rue de Quincempoix, where the stock-jobbers met in
great crowds, and was well paid for allowing them to make use of his
hump as a desk in order to sign their contracts upon it. Would the
fortune which he raised by this invention make him a handsome fellow,
though it be confessed that personal beauty arises very much from ideas
of utility? The imagination is influenced by association of ideas,
which, though they arise at first from the judgment, are not easily
altered by every particular exception that occurs to us. To which we
may add, in the present case of chastity, that the example of the old
would be pernicious to the young, and that women, continually thinking
that a certain time would bring them the liberty of indulgence, would
naturally advance that period and think more lightly of this whole duty
so requisite to society.

Those who live in the same family have such frequent opportunities of
licence of this kind that nothing could preserve purity of manners were
marriage allowed among the nearest relations, or were any intercourse
of love between them ratified by law and custom. Incest, therefore,
being pernicious in a superior degree, has also a superior turpitude
and moral deformity annexed to it.

What is the reason why, by the Athenian laws, one might marry a
half-sister by the father but not by the mother? Plainly this:—The
manners of the Athenians were so reserved that a man was never
permitted to approach the women’s apartment, even in the same family,
unless where he visited his own mother. His step-mother and her
children were as much shut up from him as the women of any other
family, and there was as little danger of any criminal correspondence
between them. Uncles and nieces, for a like reason, might marry at
Athens, but neither these nor half-brothers and sisters could contract
that alliance at Rome, where the intercourse was more open between the
sexes. Public utility is the cause of all these variations.

To repeat to a man’s prejudice anything that escaped him in private
conversation, or to make any such use of his private letters, is highly
blamed. The free and social intercourse of minds must be extremely
checked where no such rules of fidelity are established.

Even in repeating stories, whence we can see no ill consequences
to result, the giving one’s authors is regarded as a piece of
indiscretion, if not of immorality. These stories, in passing from hand
to hand and receiving all the usual variations, frequently come about
to the persons concerned and produce animosities and quarrels among
people whose intentions are the most innocent and inoffensive.

To pry into secrets, to open or even read the letters of others, to
play the spy upon their words and looks and actions—what habits more
inconvenient in society? what habits, of consequence, more blameable?

This principle is also the foundation of most of the laws of good
manners, a kind of lesser morality calculated for the ease of company
and conversation. Too much or too little ceremony are both blamed,
and everything which promotes ease without an indecent familiarity is
useful and laudable.

Constancy in friendships, attachments, and intimacies is
commonly very commendable, and is requisite to support trust and
good correspondence in society. But in places of general though
casual concourse, where the pursuit of health and pleasure brings
people promiscuously together, public conveniency has dispensed with
this maxim, and custom there promotes an unreserved conversation for
the time by indulging the privilege of dropping afterwards every
indifferent acquaintance without breach of civility or good manners.

Even in societies which are established on principles the most immoral
and the most destructive to the interests of the general society there
are required certain rules which a species of false honour as well as
private interest engages the members to observe. Robbers and pirates,
it has often been remarked, could not maintain their pernicious
confederacy did they not establish a new distributive justice among
themselves and recall those laws of equity which they have violated
with the rest of mankind.

“I hate a drinking companion,” says the Greek proverb, “who never
forgets.” The follies of the last debauch should be buried in eternal
oblivion, in order to give full scope to the follies of the next.

Among nations where an immoral gallantry, if covered with a thin veil
of mystery, is in some degree authorized by custom, there immediately
arise a set of rules calculated for the conveniency of that attachment.
The famous court or parliament of love in Provence decided formerly all
difficult cases of this nature.

In societies for play there are laws required for the conduct of the
game, and these laws are different in each game. The foundation, I own,
of such societies is frivolous, and the laws are in a great measure,
though not altogether, capricious and arbitrary. So far is there a
material difference between them and the rules of justice, fidelity and
loyalty. The general societies of men are absolutely requisite for the
subsistence of the species, and the public conveniency, which regulates
morals, is inviolably established in the nature of man and of the world
in which he lives. The comparison, therefore, in these respects
is very imperfect. We may only learn from it the necessity of rules
wherever men have any intercourse with each other.

They cannot even pass each other on the road without rules. Waggoners,
coachmen, and postilions have principles by which they give way, and
these are chiefly founded on mutual ease and convenience. Sometimes
also they are arbitrary, at least dependent on a kind of capricious
analogy, like many of the reasonings of lawyers.​[117]

To carry the matter further, we may observe that it is impossible for
men so much as to murder each other without statutes and maxims and
an idea of justice and honour. War has its laws as well as peace, and
even that sportive kind of war carried on among wrestlers, boxers,
cudgel-players, gladiators, is regulated by fixed principles. Common
interest and utility beget infallibly a standard of right and wrong
among the parties concerned.


[117] That the lighter machine yields to the heavier, and in machines
of the same kind, that the empty yields to the loaded—this rule is
founded on convenience. That those who are going to the capital take
place of those who are coming from it—this seems to be founded on
some idea of the dignity of the great city, and of the preference of
the future to the past. From like reasons, among foot-walkers, the
right-hand entitles a man to the wall and prevents jostling, which
peaceable people find very disagreeable and inconvenient.


 ÆMILIUS, PAULUS, Roman general, B.C. 230–157. Defeated Perseus of

 AGATHOCLES, tyrant of Syracuse, born _circa_ B.C. 361, died 289.

 ALCIBIADES, Athenian general and statesman, born B.C. 450, died B.C.
 404. A disciple of Socrates, and noted for dissoluteness.

 ALEXANDER the Great, born B.C. 356, died 323.

 ANACHARSIS, Scythian philosopher, B.C. 600. Much esteemed by Solon.

 ANTHONY, MARK, Triumvir, born _circa_ B.C. 85, died B.C. 30. Best
 known through his association with Cleopatra.

 ANTIGONUS, one of the greatest generals of Alexander the Great. Slain
 in 301 at Ipsus.

 ANTIPATER, minister of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great, died
 B.C. 319.

 APPIANUS (Appian), belonged to the time of Trajan, and wrote the
 history of Rome in Greek.

 ARATUS, general of the Achæan League, born B.C. 271, died 213.

 ARBUTHNOT, JOHN, physician, born 1675, died 1735. Associate of Pope
 and Swift, and wrote on ancient measures, weights, and coins.

 ARISTOTLE, philosopher, the Stagirite, born B.C. 384, died 332. Tutor
 of Alexander the Great.

 ARRIANUS, Greek historian, resided at Rome in the second century, a
 disciple of Epictetus, died _circa_ A.D. 160.

 ATHENÆUS, grammarian, born in Egypt in the third century.

 ATTALUS, King of Pergamus, died B.C. 197.

 AUGUSTUS, first Roman Emperor, born B.C. 63, grandnephew of Julius
 Cæsar, died A.D. 14.

 CÆSAR, CAIUS JULIUS, B.C. 100–44, Roman warrior and administrator,
 known to every schoolboy from his _Commentaries_.

 CAMILLUS, MARCUS FURIUS, died B.C. 365, Roman warrior, six times
 military tribune and five times dictator.

 CARACALLA, brother of Geta, whom he murdered A.D. 212.

 CATALINA, LUCIUS SERGIUS (Catiline), died B.C. 62, noted for his
 depraved habits and his conspiracy that drew from Cicero his famous

 CATO, MARCUS PORCIUS, surnamed from Utica, his birthplace, Uticensis,
 died B.C. 46.

 CATO, the elder, born B.C. 234, died 149, noted for his courage and

 CICERO, MARCUS TULLIUS, Roman orator, born B.C. 106, died 43.

 CLAUDIUS, Roman Emperor, born B.C. 9, died A.D. 54. Visited Britain
 A.D. 43.

 CLEOMENES, King of Sparta, died B.C. 220.

 CLODIUS, enemy of Cicero, died B.C. 52. Used to go about Rome with an
 intimidating band of gladiators.

 COLUMELLA, native of Spain, resided at Rome in the reign of Claudius,
 A.D. 41–54.

 COMMODUS, Roman Emperor, son of Marcus Aurelius, born A.D. 161, died

 CTESIPHON. In his defence Demosthenes delivered his famous oration “On
 the Crown” in B.C. 330.

 DEMETRIUS PHALEREUS, Greek orator and statesman, born B.C. 345, died
 _circa_ 283.

 DEMOSTHENES, Greek orator, B.C. 385–322, whose speeches against
 the encroachments of Philip of Macedon have given the general term
 “philippics” to powerful invective.

 DION CASSIUS, _circa_ 200–250, wrote history of Rome in Greek.

 DIONYSIUS HALICARNASSÆUS, Greek rhetorician and historian, born B.C.
 29, died B.C. 7. Chief work, _Roman Archæology_.

 DIONYSIUS, the elder, tyrant of Syracuse, B.C. 430–367; besides being
 a warrior, was a patron of literary men and artists. Built Lautumiæ,
 the famous prison, called also the “Ear of Dionysius.”

 DIODORUS SICULUS, wrote a universal history, flourished _circa_ B.C.

 DRUSUS, Roman consul, born B.C. 38.

 EPAMINONDAS, Theban statesman and general, died B.C. 362.

 FLORUS, Roman historian, lived in the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian.

 FOLARD, JEAN CHARLES, military tactician, born at Avignon 1669, died
 1752, published an edition of _Polybius_.

 GARCILASSO DE LA VEGA, called the Inca because descended from the
 royal family of Peru (1530–1620), wrote _History of Peru_ and _History
 of Florida_.

 GEE, JOSHUA, eighteenth-century London merchant, wrote _Trade and
 Navigation of Great Britain_ (1730).

 GERMANICUS, son of Nero, died A.D. 19, aged 34.

 GETA, second son of Emperor Severus, born A.D. 189, died 212.

 GUICCIARDINI, FRANCISCO, Italian historian (1482–1540).

 HANNIBAL, great Carthaginian general, born B.C. 247, died 183.

 HELIOGABALUS, Roman emperor, born _circa_ A.D. 205, died 222.

 HERODIAN, flourished in the third century, wrote in Greek a history of
 the period from the death of Marcus Aurelius to 238.

 HESIOD, one of the earliest Greek poets, supposed to have flourished
 in the eighth century B.C. “Works and Days” is his best known poem.

 HIERO II., King of Syracuse, died B.C. 215, aged 92. Archimedes lived
 in his reign.

 HIRTIUS, Roman consul, contemporary with Cæsar and Cicero; is said to
 be the author of the eighth book of Cæsar’s _Commentaries_.

 HYPERIDES, Athenian orator, died B.C. 322, disciple of Plato.

 ISOCRATES, Greek orator, born B.C. 436, died 338.

 JUSTIN, a Latin historian, lived in second or third century,
 epitomized _Historiæ Philippicæ of Trogus Pompeius, a native of Gaul_.

 LIVIUS, TITUS (Livy), historian of Rome (B.C. 59–17). Of his 142
 books, only 35 have been preserved.

 LONGINUS, DIONYSIUS, Greek philosopher, died B.C. 273. His extensive
 knowledge earned him the title of “The living library.”

 LUCIAN, Greek writer, lived in the time of Marcus Aurelius.

 LYCURGUS, Spartan lawgiver, whose severe regulations made the Spartans
 a race of warriors, is said to have flourished in the ninth century

 LYSIAS, Greek orator, born B.C. 458, died 373, wrote 230 orations, of
 which only 35 remain.

 MACHIAVELLI, Florentine statesman and historian, born 1469, died 1527.

 MAILLET, French writer, born 1656, died 1738, consul in Egypt and at

 MARTIAL, Roman poet, born A.D. 43.

 MASSINISSA, King of Numidia, born B.C. 238, died 148.

 MAZARIN, JULES, cardinal, and first minister of Louis XIV. (1602–61).

 NABIS, Spartan tyrant, died B.C. 192, noted for his cruelty.

 NERO, Roman emperor, born A.D. 37, died 67.

 OCTAVIUS, became Emperor Augustus.

 OVIDIUS PUBLIUS NASO (Ovid), Roman poet, B.C. 43–A.D. 18, enjoyed the
 patronage of Augustus until banished A.D. 8. Chief works—_Amores_, _De
 Arte Amandi_, _Fasti_.

 PATERCULUS, Roman historian, born _circa_ B.C. 19, died A.D. 31.

 PAUSANIAS, Greek writer, flourished _circa_ A.D. 120–140.

 PERSEUS, or PERSES, last King of Macedonia. Ascended the throne B.C.

 PESCENIUS NIGER, became Roman Emperor in 193.

 PETRONIUS, died A.D. 66, Roman author, lived at the court of Nero, and
 acquired celebrity for his licentiousness.

 PHILIP of Macedon, born 382, assassinated 336.

 PLATO, born B.C. 429, died 347.

 PLAUTUS, Roman comedy writer, born _circa_ B.C. 255, died 184.

 PLINY. There were two Plinys—one born A.D. 23, the other, nephew
 of the preceding, A.D. 62. The former was a naturalist; the latter
 a pleader and soldier, whose chief writings are his account of the
 Christians and _Epistles_.

 PLUTARCH, celebrated biographer, died _circa_ B.C. 120.

 POLYBIUS, Greek historian, B.C. 204–122. His history deals with Greece
 and Rome during the period 220–146, and is of great importance.

 POMPEY the younger, born B.C. 75.

 PRUSIAS, King of Bithynia, _circa_ B.C. 190.

 PYRRHUS, King of Epirus, B.C. 318–272, one of the greatest warriors of
 ancient days.

 SALLUSTIUS, CRISPUS CAIUS, Roman historian, B.C. 86–35, excluded from
 the Senate on account of his debauchery.

 SENECA, LUCIUS ANNÆUS, Roman philosopher, A.D. 3–65, belonged to the
 Stoic school, and was believed to have been acquainted with St. Paul.

 SERVIUS TULLIUS, sixth King of Rome, changed the constitution so that
 the plebs obtained political power.

 SEVERUS, Roman Emperor, born A.D. 146, died at York 211. Wrote history
 of his own reign.

 SOLON, celebrated Athenian legislator, died _circa_ B.C. 558, aged
 eighty. Established the principle that property, not birth, should
 entitle to state honours and offices.

 STRABO, Greek historian and geographer, born _circa_ B.C. 50, died
 _circa_ A.D. 20. His chief work in seventeen books gives a description
 of different countries, manners and customs, particulars of their
 history, and eminent men.

 SUETONIUS, Roman historian, born _circa_ A.D. 75, died _circa_ 160.

 TACITUS, Roman historian, born _circa_ A.D. 54. His _Annales_ cover
 the period A.D. 14–68.

 THEOCRITUS, Greek poet, lived third century B.C., considered the
 father of pastoral poetry. Visited the court of Ptolemæus Soter.

 THRASYBULUS, Athenian naval commander, died B.C. 389.

 THUCYDIDES, Greek historian, born B.C. 471, died _circa_ 401. His
 great work, the history of the Peloponnesian War, is the first example
 of philosophical history.

 TIBERIUS, CLAUDIUS NERO, Roman Emperor, B.C. 42–A.D. 37, succeeded
 Augustus A.D. 14.

 TIMOLEON, Greek general, born in Corinth _circa_ B.C. 400, died 337.
 Resided at Syracuse.

 TISSAPHERNES, Persian satrap, died B.C. 395. An intimate friend of

 TRAJANUS, MARCUS ULPIUS (Trajan), Roman Emperor, A.D. 52–117.
 Succeeded to the throne in 98, and surnamed by the Senate “Optimus.”

 VARRO, Roman writer, born B.C. 116, died 28. Reputed the most learned
 among the Romans, and wrote 490 books.

 VAUBAN, SÉBASTIEN LE PRESTRE DE, Marshal of France and great military
 engineer, 1633–1707. Published works on sieges, frontiers, etc., and
 left twelve folio volumes of MS., and was pronounced the most upright,
 simple, true, and modest man of his age.

 VESPASIAN, TITUS FLAVIUS, Roman Emperor, born A.D. 9, died 79.

 VOPISCUS, Syracusan, flourished _circa_ A.D. 304. Wrote histories.

 XENOPHON, Greek historian, born circa B.C. 450, a disciple and friend
 of Socrates.



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 21 Selections from Seneca. With Introduction by Walter Clode.

 22 Specimen Days in America. By Walt Whitman. Revised by the Author,
 with fresh Preface.

 23 Democratic Vistas, and Other Papers. By Walt Whitman. (Published by
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 24 White’s Natural History of Selborne, with a Preface by Richard

 25 Defoe’s Captain Singleton. Edited, with Introduction, by H.
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 26 Mazzini’s Essays: Literary, Political, and Religious. With
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 27 Prose Writings of Heine. With Introduction by Havelock Ellis.

 28 Reynolds’s Discourses. With Introduction by Helen Zimmern.

 29 Papers of Steele and Addison. Edited by Walter Lewin.

 30 Burns’s Letters. Selected and Arranged, with Introduction, by J.
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 31 Volsunga Saga. William Morris. With Introduction by H. H. Sparling.

 32 Sartor Resartus. By Thomas Carlyle. With Introduction by Ernest

 33 Select Writings of Emerson with Introduction by Percival Chubb.

 34 Autobiography of Lord Herbert. Edited, with an Introduction, by
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 35 English Prose, From Maundeville to Thackeray. Chosen and Edited by
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 36 The Pillars of Society, and Other Plays. By Henrik Ibsen. Edited,
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 37 Irish Fairy and Folk Tales. Edited and Selected by W. B. Yeats.

 38 Essays of Dr. Johnson, with Biographical Introduction and Notes by
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 39 Essays of William Hazlitt. Selected and Edited, with Introduction
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 40 Landor’s Pentameron, and Other Imaginary Conversations. Edited,
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 41 Poe’s Tales and Essays. Edited, with Introduction, by Ernest Rhys.

 42 Vicar of Wakefield. By Oliver Goldsmith. Edited, with Preface, by
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 43 Political Orations, from Wentworth to Macaulay. Edited, with
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 44 The Autocrat of the Breakfast-table. By Oliver Wendell Holmes.

 45 The Poet at the Breakfast-table. By Oliver Wendell Holmes.

 46 The Professor at the Breakfast-table. By Oliver Wendell Holmes.

 47 Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son. Selected, with
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 48 Stories from Carleton. Selected, with Introduction, by W. Yeats.

 49 Jane Eyre. By Charlotte Brontë. Edited by Clement K. Shorter.

 50 Elizabethan England. Edited by Lothrop Withington, with a Preface
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 51 The Prose Writings of Thomas Davis. Edited by T. W. Rolleston.

 52 Spence’s Anecdotes. A Selection. Edited, with an Introduction and
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 53 More’s Utopia, and Life of Edward V. Edited, with an Introduction,
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 54 Sadi’s Gulistan, or Flower Garden. Translated, with an Essay, by
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 55 English Fairy and Folk Tales. Edited by E. Sidney Hartland.

 56 Northern Studies. By Edmund Gosse. With a Note by Ernest Rhys.

 57 Early Reviews of Great Writers. Edited by E. Stevenson.

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 59 Landor’s Pericles and Aspasia. Edited, with an Introduction, by
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 70 Vindication of the Rights of Woman. By Mary Wollstonecraft.
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 71 “The Athenian Oracle.” A Selection. Edited by John Underhill, with
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 72 Essays of Sainte-beuve. Translated and Edited, with an
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 73 Selections from Plato. From the translation of Sydenham and Taylor.
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 74 Heine’s Italian Travel Sketches, etc. Translated by Elizabeth A.
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 75 Schiller’s Maid of Orleans. Translated, with an Introduction, by
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 76 Selections from Sydney Smith. Edited, with an Introduction, by
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 77 The New Spirit. By Havelock Ellis.

 78 The Book of Marvellous Adventures. From the “Morte d’Arthur.”
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 “Morte d’Arthur.”]

 79 Essays and Aphorisms. By Sir Arthur Helps. With an Introduction by
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 80 Essays of Montaigne. Selected, with a Prefatory Note, by Percival

 81 The Luck of Barry Lyndon. By W. M. Thackeray. Edited by F. T.

 82 Schiller’s William Tell. Translated, with an Introduction, by
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 83 Carlyle’s Essays on German Literature. With an Introduction by
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 84 Plays and Dramatic Essays of Charles Lamb. Edited, with an
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 85 The Prose of Wordsworth. Selected and Edited, with an Introduction,
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 86 Essays, Dialogues, and Thoughts of Count Giacomo Leopardi.
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 87 The Inspector-general. A Russian Comedy. By Nikolai V. Gogol.
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 88 Essays and Apothegms of Francis, Lord Bacon. Edited, with an
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 89 Prose of Milton. Selected and Edited, with an Introduction, by
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 90 The Republic of Plato. Translated by Thomas Taylor, with an
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 91 Passages from Froissart. With an Introduction by Frank T. Marzials.

 92 The Prose and Table Talk of Coleridge. Edited by Will H. Dircks.

 93 Heine in Art and Letters. Translated by Elizabeth A. Sharp.

 94 Selected Essays of de Quincey. With an Introduction by Sir George
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 95 Vasari’s Lives of Italian Painters. Selected and Prefaced by
 Havelock Ellis.

 96 Laocoon, and other Prose Writings of Lessing. A new Translation by
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 97 Pelleas and Melisanda, and the Sightless. Two Plays by Maurice
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 98 The Complete Angler of Walton and Cotton. Edited, with an
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 99 Lessing’s Nathan the Wise. Translated by Major-General Patrick

 100 The Poetry of the Celtic Races, and other Essays of Ernest Renan.
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 101 Criticisms, Reflections, and Maxims of Goethe. Translated, with an
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 102 Essays of Schopenhauer. Translated by Mrs. Rudolf Dircks. With an

 103 Renan’s Life of Jesus. Translated, with an Introduction, by
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 104 The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Edited, with an Introduction,
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 105 The Principles of Success in Literature. By George Henry Lewes.
 Edited by T. Sharper Knowlson.

 106 The Lives of Dr. John Donne, Sir Henry Wotton, Mr. Richard Hooker,
 Mr. George Herbert, and Dr. Robert Sanderson. By Izaac Walton. Edited,
 with an Introduction, by Charles Hill Dick.

 108 Renan’s Antichrist. Translated, with an Introduction, by W. G.

 109 Orations of Cicero. Selected and Edited, with an Introduction, by
 Fred. W. Norris.

 110 Reflections on the Revolution in France. By Edmund Burke. With an
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 111 The Letters of the Younger Pliny. Series I. Translated, with an
 Introductory Essay, by John B. Firth, B.A., Late Scholar of Queen’s
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 112 The Letters of the Younger Pliny. Series II. Translated by John B.
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 113 Selected Thoughts of Blaise Pascal. Translated, with an
 Introduction and Notes, by Gertrude Burford Rawlings.

 114 Scots Essayists: from Stirling to Stevenson, Edited, with an
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 115 On Liberty. By John Stuart Mill. With an Introduction by W. L.

 116 The Discourse on Method and Metaphysical Meditations of René
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 117 Kâlidâsa’s Sakuntalâ, Etc. Edited, With An Introduction, by T.

 118 Newman’s University Sketches. Edited, with Introduction, by George

 119 Newman’s Select Essays. Edited, with an Introduction, by George

 120 Renan’s Marcus Aurelius. Translated, with an Introduction, by
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 121 Froude’s Nemesis of Faith. With an Introduction by William G.

 122 What is Art? By Leo Tolstoy. Translated from the Original Russian
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 123 Hume’s Political Essays. Edited, with an Introduction, by W. B.



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 The Story of Oratorio. By Annie W. Patterson, B.A., Mus. Doc.

 The Story of Notation. By C. F. Abdy Williams, M.A., Mus. Bac.

 The Story of the Organ. By C. F. Abdy Williams, M.A., Author of “Bach”
 and “Handel” (“Master Musicians’ Series”).

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 Conductor of the Middlesbrough, Sunderland, and Bishop Auckland
 Musical Societies.

 The Story of the Violin. By Paul Stoeving, Professor of the Violin,
 Guildhall School of Music, London.

 The Story of the Harp. By William H. Grattan Flood, Author of “History
 of Irish Music.”

 The Story of Organ Music. By C. F. Abdy Williams, M.A., Mus. Bac.


 The Story of the Pianoforte. By Algernon S. Rose, Author of “Talks
 with Bandsmen.”

 The Story of English Minstrelsy. By Edmondstoune Duncan.

 The Story of the Orchestra. By Stewart Macpherson, Fellow and
 Professor, Royal Academy of Music.

 The Story of Musical Sound. By Churchill Sibley, Mus. Doc.

 The Story of Church Music. By The Editor.

 Etc., Etc., Etc.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber’s note:

Original spelling and grammar have been generally retained, with
some exceptions noted below.

Page xi. The phrase ‹Weath of Nations› was changed to ‹Wealth of

Page xiii. The phrase ‹‘I am much pleased with› was changed to ‹“I am
much pleased with›.

Page xxiii. The phrase ‹int his room while› was changed to ‹into his
room while›.

Page 144. The phrases ‹Xerxes’s army› and ‹Xerxes’ army› are both

Page 157n. The phrase ‹much rom their business› was changed to ‹much
from their business›.

Pages 162–163. The phrases ‹“that in the year› (p. 162) and ‹north
exposition.”› (p. 163) contain unbalanced quotation marks in the
original. Two new double quotation marks have been inserted to balance
these, at ‹“‘Hybernum fracta› and ‹“He speaks of that river’s›.

Page 254. The phrase ‹SAMILLUS, MARCUS FURIUS› was changed to

Page 258. This (originally unnumbered) page begins sixteen pages
of advertisements from The Walter Scott Publishing Co. A new
heading ‹ADVERTISEMENTS› was inserted. This new heading contains
also the footer text that was originally printed on each page of the
ads section. The ads were printed in several different styles with
considerable variation. The styling has been herein greatly simplified.
Several large curly brackets ‹}› that graphically indicate combination
of information on two or more lines of text have been eliminated, by
restructuring the text. Ditto marks ‹Do.› were also removed.

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