« السابقةمتابعة »
ter 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 elegant 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 honor 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; yet it is there that venality and corruption do most prevail. The nobles seem to have preserved their crown elective for no other purpose than 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 much 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 a progress in the arts is rather favorable to liberty, and has a natural tendency to preserve if not produce a free government. In rude unpolished nations, where the arts are neglected, all labor 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 inust 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 trades. men 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 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 tyranny.
The lower House 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 by 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 honor 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 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 : to wit, 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 labor which at present is employed only in producing a slender gratification to one man, would relieve the necessities and bestow satisfaction on hundreds. The same care and toil that raise a dish of pease at Christinas would give bread to a whole family during six months. To say that without a vicious luxury the labor 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 for another. But virtue, like wholesome food, is better than poisons however corrected.
Suppose the same number of men that are at present in Great 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 than can be imagined, and by the greatest reformation that Omnipotence itself could work in their temper and disposition ? To assert that
VOL. XII. - 16
they cannot, appears evidently ridiculous. As the land is able to maintain more than all its present 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 follows. 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? 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.
I thought this reasoning necessary in order to give some light to a philosophical question which has been much disputed in England. 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 is in general preferable to sloth and idleness, which would commonly succeed in its place, and are more hurtful 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 labor of the State suffices only to furnish the necessaries of life to the laborers, and can afford nothing to those who are employed in the public service.
CHARACTER OF HUME, BY HIMSELF.
(From "Autobiography.") I RETURNED to Edinburgh in 1769, very opulent (for I possessed £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 the spring of 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 spirit; insomuch that were I to name a period of my life which I should choose to pass over again, I might be tempted to point to this later period. I possess the same ardor as ever in study, and the same gayety in company. I consider, besides, that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few years of infirinities; and though I see many symptoms to my literary reputation breaking out at last with additional lustre, I know that I could have but few years to enjoy it. It is difficult to be more detached from life than I now am.
To conclude historically with my own character: I am, or rather was (for that is the style which 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 disposition, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humor; 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 in any ways 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