« ZurückWeiter »
seem to us, hath been often done in other states. And the natural English temper considered, together with the force of example, no one can tell how far a proposal for a free gift may go among the monied men, when set on foot by the legislature, and encouraged by two or three men of figure, who have the spirit to do a generous thing, and the understanding to see it is every private man's interest to support that of the public.
If they who have their fortunes in money should make a voluntary gift, the public would be eased, and at the same time maintain its credit. Nor is a generous love of their country the only motive that should induce them to this. Common equity requires, that all subjects should equally share the public burden; and common sense shews, that those who are foremost in the danger, should not be the most backward in contributing to prevent it.
Before I leave this subject, I cannot but take notice of that most infamous practice of bribery, than which nothing can be more opposite to public spirit, since every one who takes a bribe plainly owns, that he prefers his private interest to that of his country. This corruption is become a national crime, having infected the lowest as well as the highest among us, and is so general and notorious, that, as it cannot be matched in former ages, so it is to be hoped it will not be imitated by posterity.
This calls to mind another national guilt, which we possess in a very eminent degree; there being nó nation under the sun, where solemn perjury is so common, or where there are such temptations to it. The making men swear so often in their own case, and where they have an interest to conceal the truth, hath gradually worn off that awful respect which was once thought due to an appeal to Almighty God; insomuch, that men now-a-days break their fast and a custom-house oath with the same peace of mind. It is a policy peculiar to
us, the obliging men to perjure or betray themselves, and hath had no one good effect, but many very ill ones. Sure I am, that other nations, without the hundredth part of our swearing, contrive to do their business at least as well as we do. And perhaps our legislature will think it proper to follow their example. For whatever measures are taken, so long as we lie under such a load of guilt, as national perjury and national bribery, it is impossible we can prosper.
This poor nation hath sorely smarted of late, and to ease the present smart, a sudden remedy (as is usual in such cases) hath been thought of. But we must beware not to mistake an anodyne for a cure. Where the vitals are touched, and the whole mass of humours vitiated, it is not enough to ease the part pained, we must look farther, and apply general correctives; otherwise the ill humour may soon shew itself in some other part.
The South-sea affair, how sensible soever, is not the original evil, or the great source of our misfortunes; it is but the natural effect of those principles, which for many years have been propagated with great industry. And as a sharp distemper, by reclaiming a man from intemperance, may prolong his life, so it is not impossible but this public calamity that lies so heavy on the nation may prevent its ruin. It would certainly prove the greatest of blessings, if it should make all honest men of one party; if it should put religion and virtue in countenance, restore a sense of public spirit, and convince men it is a dangerous folly to pursue private aims in opposition to the good of their country, if it `should turn our thought from gousenage and stockjobbing, to industry and frugal methods of life; in fine, if it should revive and inflame that native spark of British worth and honour, which hath too long lain smothered and oppressed.
With this view I have, among so many projects for
remedying the ill state of our affairs in a particular instance, ventured to publish the foregoing general hints, which as they have been thrown together from a zeal for the public good, so I heartily wish they may be regarded neither more nor less than as they are fitted to promote that end.
Though it must be owned, that little can be hoped if we consider the corrupt degenerate age we live in. I know it is an old folly to make peevish complaints of the times, and charge the common failures of human nature on a particular age. One may nevertheless venture to affirm, that the present hath brought forth new and portentous villanies, not to be paralleled in our own or any other history. We have been long preparing for some great catastrophe. Vice and villany have by degrees grown reputable among us; our infidels have passed for fine gentlemen, and our venal traitors for men of sense, who knew the world. We have made a jest of public spirit, and cancelled all respect for whatever our laws and religion repute sacred. The old English modesty is quite worn off, and instead of blushing for our crimes, we are ashamed only of piety and virtue. In short, other nations have been wicked, but we are the first who have been wicked upon principle.
The truth is, our symptoms are so bad, that notwithstanding all the care and vigilance of the legislature, it is to be feared the final period of our state approaches. Strong constitutions, whether politic or natural, do not feel light disorders. But, when they are sensibly affected, the distemper is for the most part violent and of an ill prognostic. Free governments like our own were planted by the Goths in most parts of Europe; and though we all know what they are come to, yet we seem disposed rather to follow their example, than to profit by it.
Whether it be in the order of things, that civil states should have, like natural products, their several
periods of growth, perfection, and decay; or whether it be an effect, as seems more probable, of human folly, that as industry produces wealth, so wealth should produce vice, and vice ruin.
God grant the time be not near, when men shall say, "This island was once inhabited by a religious, brave, sincere people, of plain uncorrupt manners, respecting inbred worth rather than titles and appearances, assertors of liberty, lovers of their country, jealous of their own rights, and unwilling to infringe the rights of others; improvers of learning and useful arts, enemies to luxury, tender of other men's lives, and prodigal of their own; inferior in nothing to the old Greeks or Romans, and superior to each of those people in the perfections of the other. Such were our ancestors during their rise and greatness; but they degenerated, grew servile flatterers of men in power, adopted Epicurean notions, became venal, corrupt, injurious, which drew upon them the hatred of God and man, and occasioned their final ruin.”