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E S S A Y XI.
Of CIVIL LIBERTY.
THOSE who employ their pens on political subjects,
free from party-rage, and party-prejudices, cultivate a science, which, of all others, contributes most to public utility, and even to the private satisfaction of those who addict themselves to the study of it. I am apt, however, to entertain a suspicion, that the world is still too young to fix many general truths in politics, which will remain true to the latest posterity. We have not as yet had experience of three thousand years; so that not only the art of reasoning is still defective in this science, as in all others, but we even want fufficient materials upon which we can reason. It is not fully known, what degree of refinement, either in virtue or vice, human nature is susceptible of; nor what may be expected of mankind from any great revolution in their education, customs, or principles. Machiavel was certainly a great genius; but having confined his study to the furious and tyrannical governments of ancient times, or to the little disorderly principalities of Italy, his reasonings, especially upon monarchical government, have been found extremely defective; and there scarcely is any maxim in his prince, which subsequent experience has not entirely refuted. A weak prince, says he, is incapable of receiving good counsel; for if he consult with several, he will not be able to choose among their different counsels. If
he abandon himself to one, that minister may, perhaps, hava capacity ; but he will not long be a minifter: He will be sure to disposjess his master, and place himself and his family upon the throne. I mention this, , among many instances of the errors of that politician, proceeding, in a great measure, from his having lived in too early an age of the world, to be a good judge of political truth. Almost all the princes of EUROPE are at present governed by their ministers; and have been so for near two centuries; and yet no such event has ever happened, or can possibly happen. SEJANUS might projet dethroning the CÆSARS; but FLEURY, though ever fo vicious, could not, while in his senses, entertain the least hopes of disposselling the BOURBONS.
Trade was never esteemed an affair of fate till the last century; and there scarcely is any ancient writer on politics, who has made mention of it t. Even the ITĄLIANS have kept a profound filence with regard to it, though it has now engaged the chief attention, as well of ministers of state, as of speculative reasoners. The great opulence, grandeur, and military atchievements of the two maritime powers seem first to have instructed mankind in the importance of an extensive commerce.
Having, therefore, intended in this essay to make a full comparison of civil liberty and absolute government, and to show the great advantages of the former above the latter; I began to entertain a suspicion, that no man in this age was sųfficiently qualified for fuch an undertaking; and that whatever any one should advance on that head would, in all probability, be refuted by further experience, and be rejected by pofterity,
Such mighty revolutions have happened in human affairs, and so many
+ XENOPHON mentions it; but with a doubt if it be of any advantage to a state. pide nedýcu nt ogía opanci to módív, &c. Xen, HIERO. PLATO Feta!ly excludes it from his imaginary republic. De legibus, lib. iv.
events have arisen contrary to the expectation of the ancients, that they are sufficient to beget the fufpicion of still further changes.
It had been observed by the ancients, that all the arts and sciences arose among free nations; and, that the Persians and Egyptians, notwithstanding their ease, opulence, and luxury, made but faint efforts towards a ręlith in those finer pleasures, which were carried to such perfection by the Greeks, amidst continual wars, attended with poverty, and the greatest simplicity of life and manners. It had also been observed, that, when the GREEKS lost their liberty, though they increased mightily in riches, by means of the conquests of ALEXANDER; yet the arts, from that inoment, declined among them, and have never since been able to raise their head in that climate. Learning was transplanted to Rome, the only free nation at that time in the universe; and having met with so favourable a foil, it made prodigious shoots for above a century; till the decay of liberty produced also the decay of letters, and spread a total barbarism over the world. From these two experiments, of which each was double in its kind, and thewed the fall of learning in absolute governments, as well as its rise in popular ones, LONGINUS thought himself fufficiently juftified, in asserting, that the arts and sciences could never Aourish, but in a free government: And in this opinion, he has been followed by several eminent writers + in our own country, who either confined their view merely to ancient facts, or entertained too great a partiality in favour of that form of government, established amongit us. '
† Ms. ADDISON and LORD SHAFTESBURT.
But what would there writers have said, to the in ftances of modern Rome and of FLORENCE ? Of which the former carried to perfection all the finer arts of sculpture, painting, and music, as well as poetry, though it groaned under tyranny, and under the tyranny of priests: While the latter made its chief progress in the arts and sciences, after it began to lose its liberty by the usurpation of the family of MedicI. Ariosto, Tasso, GaLILEO, more than RAPHAEL, and MICHAEL ANGELO, were not born in republics. And though the LOMBARD school was famous as well as the ROMAN, yet the VENETIANS have had the smallest share in its honours, and seem rather inferior to the other ITALIANS, in their genius for the arts and sciences. Rubens established his school at ANTWERP, not at AMSTERDAM: DRESDEN, not HAMBURGH, is the centre of politeness in GER
But the most eminent instance of the flourishing of learning in absolute governments, is that of FRANCE, which scarcely ever enjoyed any established liberty, and yet has carried the arts and sciences as near perfection as any other nation. The ENGLISH are, perhaps, greater philosophers; the ITALIANs better painters and musicians; the ROMANS were greater orators: But the French are the only people, except the Greeks, who have been at once philosophers, poets, orators, historians, painters, architecs, sculptors, and musicians. With regard to the stage, they have excelled even the GREEKS, who far excelled the ENGLISH. And, in common life, they have, in a great measure, perfected that art, the most useful and agreeable of any, "Art de Vivre, the art of society and conversation.
If we confider the state of the sciences and polite arts in our own country, Horace's observation, with regard to the ROMANS, may, in a great measure, be applied to the BRITISH.
-Sed in longum tamen ævum Manserunt, hodieque manent vestigia ruris. The elegance and propriety of style have been very much neglected among us. We have no dictionary of our language, and scarcely a tolerable grammar. The first polite prose we have, was writ by a man who is still alive*. As to SPRAT, Locke, and even TEMPLE, they knew too little of the rules of art to be esteemed elegant writers. The prose of Bacon, HARRINGTON, and MILTON, is altogether stiff and pedantic ; though their sen'e be excellent. Men, in this country, have been so much occupied in the great disputes of Religion, Politics, and Philosophy, that they had no relish for the seemingly minute observations of grammar and criticism. And though this turn of thinking must have considerably improved our sense and our talent of reasoning; it must be confessed, that, even in those sciences above-mentioned, we have not any standard-book, which we can transmit to posterity : And the utmost we have to boast of, are a few essays towards a more just philosophy ; which, indeed, promise well, but have not, as yet, reached any degree of perfection.
It has become an established opinion, that commerce can never flourish but in a free government; and this opinion seems to be founded on a longer and larger experience than the foregoing, with regard to the arts and sciences. If we trace commerce in its progress through TYRE, Athens, SYRACUSE, CARTHAGE, VENIÇE, F10