Зображення сторінки


he would make me read over a great library ; and I would serve it as I did the Hydra, I would burn as I went on, that one chimera might not rise from another, to plague mankind. I should have valued myself more on clearing the library, than on cleansing the Augean stables.

It is in those libraries only that the memory of your labour exists. The heroes of Marathon, the patriots of Thermopylæ owe their fame to me. All the wise institutions of lawgivers, and all the doctrines of sages, had perished in the ear, like a dream related, if letters had not preserved them. O Hercules ! it is not for the man who preferred virtue to pleasure, to be an enemy to the muses. Let Sardanapalus and the silken sons of luxury, who have wasted life in inglorious ease, despise the records of action, which bear no honourable testimony to their lives : but true merit, heroic virtue, should respect the sacred source of lasting honour.

Indeed, if writers employed themselves only in recording the acts of great men, much might be said in their favour. But why do they trouble peopie with their meditations ? Can it be of any consequence to the world what an idle man has been thinking ?



Yes it may.

The most important and extensive advantages mankind enjoy, are greatly owing to men who have never quitted their closets. To them mankind are obliged for the facility and security of navigation. The invention of the compass has opened to them new worlds. The knowledge of the mechanical powers has enabled them to construct such wonderful machines, as perform what the united labour of millions, by the severest drudgery, could not accomplish. Agriculture too, the most useful of arts, has received its share of improvement from the same source. Poetry likewise is of excellent use, to enable the memory to retain with more ease, and to imprint with more energy upon the heart, precepts and examples of virtue. From the little rook of a few letters, science has spread its branches over all nature, and raised its head to the heavens. Some philosophers have entered so far into the counsels of Divine Wisdom, as to explain much of the great operations of nature. The dimensions and distances of the planets, the causes of their revolutions, the path of comets, and the ebbing and flowing of tides, are understood and explained. Can any thing raise

the glory of the human species more, than to see a little creature, inhabiting a small spot, amidst innumerable worlds, taking a survey of the universe, comprehending its arrangement, and entering into the scheme of that wonderful connexion and correspondence of things so remote, and which it seems a great exertion of Omnipotence to have established ? What a volume of wisdom, what a noble theology do these discoveries open to us? While some superior geniuses have soared to these sublime subjects, other sagacious and diligent minds have been inquiring into the most minute works of the Infinite Artificer: the same care, the same providence, is exerted through the whole ; and we should learn from it, that, to true wisdom, utility and fitness appear perfection, and whatever is beneficial is noble.


I approve of science as far as it is assistant to action. I Kke the improvement of navigation, and the discovery of the greater part of the globe, because it opens a wider field for the master spirits of the world to bustle in.


There spoke the soul of Hercules. But if learned men are to be esteemed for the assistance they give to active minds in their schemes, they are not less to be valued for their endeavours to give them a right direction, and moderate their too great ardour. The study of history will teach the legislator by what means states have become powerful ; and in the private citizen, they will inculcate the love of liberty and order. The writings of sages point eut a private path of virtue ; and show that the best empire is self-government, and that subduing our passions is the noblest of conquests.

HERCULES. The true spirit of heroism acts by a generous impulse, and wants neither the experience of history, nor the doctrines of philosophers to direct it. But do not arts and sciences render men effeminate, luxurious, and inactive? and can you deny that wit and learning are often made subservient to very bad purposes ? *. I will own that there are some natures so happily formed, they scarcely want the ass tance of a master, and the rules of art, to give them force or grace in every thing they do. But these favoured geniuses are few. As learning flourishes only where ease, plenty, and mild government subsist; in so


rich a soil, and under so soft a climate, the weeds of luxury will spring up among the flowers of art : but the spontaneous weeds would grow more rank, if they were allowed the un: disturbed possession of the field. Letters keep a frugal tem, perate nation from growing ferocious, a rich one from becoming entirely sensual and debauched. Every gift of Hea: ven is sometimes abused ; but good sense and fine talents, by a natural law, gravitate towards virtue. Accidents may drive them out of their proper direction ; but such accidents are an alarming omen, and of dire portent to the times. For if virtue cannot keep to her allegiance those men, who in their hearts confess her divine right, and know the value of her laws, on whose fidelity and obedience can she depend ? May such geniuses never descend to fatter vice, encourage fully, or propagate irreligion ; but exert all their powers in the service of virtue, and celebrate the noble choice of those, who, like Hercules, preferred her to pleasure !





An absolute and a limited monarchy compared.


Yes, Marcus, though I own you to have been the first of mankind in virtue and goodness; though, while you governed, philosophy sat on the throne, and diffused the benign inAuences of her administration over the whole Roman Empire, yet, as a king, I might, perhaps, pretend to a merit even superior to yours.

MARCUS AURELIUS. That philosophy you ascribe to me has taught me to feel my own defects, and to venerate the virtues of other men. Tell me, therefore, in what consisted the superiority of your merit, as a king.

SERVIUS TULLIUS. It consisted in this, that I gave my people freedom. I di minished, I limited the kingly power, when it was placed in my hands. I need not tell you, that the plan of government instituted by me, was adopted by the Romans, when they had

driver out Tarquin, the destroyer of their liberty ; and gave its form to that republic, composed of a due mixture of the regal, aristocratical, and democratical powers, the strength and wisdom of which subdued the world. Thus all the glory of that great people, who for many ages excelled the rest of mankind, in the arts of policy, belongs originally to me.


There is much truth in what you say. But would not the Romans have done better, if, after the expulsion of Tarquin, they had vested the regal power in a limited monarch, in, stead of placing it in two annual elective magistrates, with the title of consuls ? This was a great deviation from your plan of government, and I think an unwise one. For a divided royalty is a solecism, an absurdity in politics. Nor was the regal power, committed to the administration of consuls, continued in their hands long enough, to enable them to finish any act of great moment.

From hence arose a necessity of prolonging their commands beyond the legal term; of shortening the interval prescribed by the laws between the elections of those offices; and of granting extraordinary commissions and powers ; by all which the republic was in the end destroyed.


The revolution which ensued upon the death of Lucretia, was made with so much anger, that it is no wonder the Romans abolished in their fury the name of king, and desired to weaken a power, the exercise of which had been so grievous : though the doing of this was attended with all the inconveniences you have justly observed. But if anger acted too violently in reforming abuses, philosophy might have wisely corrected that error. Marcus Aurelius might have new-modelled the constitution of Rome.

He might have made it a limited monarchy, leaving to the emperors all the power that was necessary to govern a wide, extended empire, and to the senate and people all the liberty that could be consistent with order and obedience to government; a liberty purged of faction, and guarded against anarchy.


I should have been happy indeed, if it had been in my power to do such good to my country. But heaven will not force its blessings on men, who by their vices are become incapable of receiving them. Liberty, like power, is only good for those who possess it, when it is under the

constant direction of virtue. No laws can have force enough to hinder it from degenerating into faction and anarchy, where the morals of a nation are depraved ; and continued habits of vice will eradicate the very love of it out of the hearts of a people. A Marcus Brutus, in my time, could not have drawn to his standard a single legion of Romans. But further, it is certain that the spirit of liberty is absolutely incompatible with the spirit of conquest. To keep great conquered nations in subjection and obedience, great standing armies are necessary. The generals of those armies will not long remain subject : and whoever acquires dominion by the sword, must rule by the sword. If he does not destroy liberty, liberty will destroy him.



you then justify Augustus for the change he made in the Roman government ?

MARCUS AURELIUS. I do not : for Augustus had no lawful authority to make that change. His power was usurpation and breach of trust. But the government, which he seized with a violent hand, came to me by a lawful and established rule of succession.


Can any length of establishment make despotism lawful ? Is not liberty an inherent, inalienable right of mankind ?


They have an inherent right to be governed by laws, not by arbitrary will. But forms of government may, and must be occasionally changed, with the consent of the people. When I reigned over them, the Romans were governed by laws.


Yes, because your moderation, and the precepts of that philosophy in which your youth had been tutored, inclined you to make the laws the rule of your government, and the bounds of your power. But, if you had desired to govern otherwise, had they power to restrain you ?

MARCUS AURELIUS. They had not : the Imperial authority in my time bad ne limitations.

SERVIUS TULLIUS. Rome therefore was in reality as much enslaved under you, as under your son ; and you left him the power of the rappizing over it by hereditary right.

« НазадПродовжити »