Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

utterly incomprehensible to either Russians or Frenchmen. And it would be obviously absurd to attempt, either by dint of logic to prove, or by dogmatism to assert, that one of these peoples enjoy less individual happiness than another. It is not in the power of man to determine truly which is actually the happiest, the Russian Serf, the Queen of England, the President of the United States, or an inhabitant of the Feegee Islands. It would be a slur, which we would be sorry to cast upon the wisdom and mercy of the God of all, to say that this or that nation, among all his people, alone is blessed with happiness. And as this would be a daring piece of presumption, to discriminate in the matter would be equally offensive to good taste and reason. Let man rest content with the reasonable effort to civilize and christianize his fellow; by this means he may refine the rough jewel and polish the hard stone. Besides, time may be much more profitably spent, than in setting up a series of standards for the estimation of the happiness of people who neither know nor care about us.

The very gradual or cumulative nature of those events which bring governments into being, is sufficient to demonstrate not only the possibility, but actual necessity, of differences in the forms of government. And the history of our own little State is no mean illustration of this. What with her fundamental constitutions, her proprietary, royal, professional, revolutionary and republican governments and constitutions, to say nothing of subsequent amendments, statutes, resolutions and conventions, who can deny that she is what she is, whether in good or evil report, not by the design of man, but "by the blessing of God ?"

“ Forms of government,” says Dr. Fergusun, * " are supposed to decide of the happiness or misery of mankind. But they must be varied, in order to suit the extent, the way of subsistence, the character and the manners of different nations. In some cases the multitude may be suffered to govern themselves; in others, they must be severely restrained. The inhabitants of a village, in some primitive age, may have been safely entrusted to the conduct of reason, and to the suggestion of their innocent views; but the tenants of Newgate can scarcely be trusted,

* Pages 122 and 204.

[ocr errors]

with chains locked to their bodies, and bars of iron fixed to their legs. How is it possible, therefore, to find any single form of government that would suit mankind in every condition ?"

Mankind, in following the present sense of their minds, in striving to remove inconveniences, or to gain apparent and contiguous advantages, arrive at ends which even their imagination could not anticipate; and pass on, like other animals, in the tract of their nature, without perceiving its end. He who first said, 'I will appropriate this field; I will leave it to my heirs; did not perceive that he was laying the foundation of civil laws and political establishments. He who first ranged himself under a leader, did not perceive that he was setting the example of a permanent subordination, under the pretence of which the rapacious were to seize his possessions, and the arrogant to lay claim to his service.

"Men, in general, are sufficiently disposed to occupy themselves in forming projects and schemes; but he who would scheme and project for others, will find an opponent in every person who is disposed to scheme for himself. Like the winds that come we know not whence, and blow whithersoever they list, the forms of society are derived from an obscure and distant origin; they arise, long before the date of phi. losophy, from the instincts, not from the speculations of men. The crowd of mankind are directed, in their establishments and measures, by the circumstances in which they are placed, and seldom are turned from their way, to follow the plan of any single projector.

“Every step and every movement of the multitude, even in what are termed enlightened ages, are made with equal blindness to the future; and nations stumble upon establishments, which are, indeed, the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design. If Cromwell said that a man never mounts bigher than when he knows not whither he is going, it may, with more reason, be affirmed of communities, that they admit of the greatest revolutions where no change is intended, and that the most refined politicians do not always know whither they are leading the state by their projects.

“ If we listen to the testimony of modern history, and to that of the most authentic parts of the ancient; if we attend to the practice of nations in every quarter of the world, and in every condition, whether that of the barbarian or the polished, we shall find very little reason to retract this assertion. No constitution is formed by concert, no government is copied from a plan.

There is another reason why governments must be different for different peoples ; we refer to the various circumstances of geographical position, climate, extent of territory, and a thousand other minor matters, which exert vast influence over the affairs of men. But, without further remark on this score, let us merely cite the case of the Chinese-as it is the most striking and most ancient-to show how wrong

it is to suppose that liberty is always indispensable to happiness, or that equality is essential to either. *

“ The Chinese Empire certainly presents to the eye both of the common observer and of the political reasoner, the most singular spectacle in the whole social history of our species. A territory of enormous extent, stretching fourteen hundred miles from east to west, and as many from north to south, peopled by above three hundred millions of persons, all living under one sovereign-preserving their customs for a period far beyond the beginning of authentic history elsewhere-civilized when Europe was sunk in barbarism--possessed many centuries before ourselves of the arts which we deem the principal triumphs of civilization, and even yet not equalled by the industry and enterprise of the West in the prodigious extent of their public works-with a huge wall one thousand five hundred miles in length, built two thousand years ago, and a canal of seven hundred, four centuries before any canal had ever been seen in Europe—the sight of such a country and such a nation is mightily calculated to fix the attention of the most careless observer, and to warm the fancy of the most indifferent. But there are yet more strange things unfolded in the same quarter to the eye

of the political philosopher. All this vast empire under a single head, its countless myriads of people yielding an obedience so regular and so mechanical, that the government is exercised as if the control were over animals or masses of inert matter ; the military force at the ruler's disposal so insignificant, that the mere physical pressure of the crowd must instantly destroy it, were the least resistance attempted ; the people all this while not only not plunged in rude ignorance, but actually more generally possessed of knowledge to a certain extent, and more highly prizing it than any other nation in the world; the institutions of the country, established for much above five and twenty centuries, and never changing or varying during that vast period of time; the inhabitants, with all their refinement, and their early progress in knowledge and in the arts, never passing a certain low point, so that they exhibit the only instance in the history of our species of improvement being permanently arrested in its progress ; the resources of this civilized state incalculable, yet not able to prevent two complete conquests by a horde of barbarians, or to chastise the piracies of a neighbouring island, or to subdue a petty tribe existing, troublesome and independent, in the centre of a monarchy which seems as if it could crush them by a single movement of its body ; the police of the state all-powerful in certain directions, and in others so weak as habitually to give way for fear of being defeated; the policy of the state an unexampled mixture of wisdom and folly--profound views and superficial errors-patronage of art and of science, combined with prohibition of foreign improvements-encouragement of domestic industry, with exclusion of external commerce-promotion of inland manufacture and trade, without employing the precious metals as a medium of exchange

* Brougham's Political Philosophy. Vol. i., p. 162.

suffering perpetually from the population encroaching upon the means of subsistence, and yet systematically stimulating the increase of its numbers ; removing every check which might mitigate the evil, and closing every outlet for the redundancy; finally, so unwieldy, anomalous, factitious a system of polity, enduring for so many ages, and for the last two centuries, in a state of the most profound and unbroken peace, without a foreign quarrel or a domestic convulsion, while all the rest of mankind have been laying waste the earth with their conflicts, and changing the face of society by sudden revolutions—such are the marvels which Chinese history presents to the contemplation of the inquiring mind; and as truth often times is more strange than fiction itself, the various contradictions with which these things are found to abound, when closely and calmly examined, are much more wonderful than the exaggerated accounts of Chinese refinement and perfection, which for so long a period appear to have been believed unsifted by the remote nations of Europe.”

The government of this vast empire is a supreme despotism, and though it has no power to make progress and improve, it nevertheless, so long as it observes the fixed prejudices of the people, is quite able to grind and oppress them. But, in spite of this, the amount of happiness is undoubtedly as great among those myriads as usually falls to the lot of humanity.

66

*If we were to form an estimate of the degree of happiness enjoyed by the people under this system from the mere probabilities of the case, we should, in all likelihood, pitch it considerably lower than the truth. That great oppression prevails is certain, but those who are subject to it are chiefly the persons in some authority, or, at least, of some condition; and the character of the Chinese is so much composed of vanity and love of distinction that all employment is eagerly sought after, notwithstanding the risks which attend its enjoyment. The disposition of the inhabitants is not only peaceable--it is contented in the greatest degree; nay, their gaiety is described by all who have had intercourse with them as a very striking characteristic of their mind. They are industrious also and sober in a remarkable degree; and, indeed, a frugal disposition seems necessary to make life at all comfortable in a country where the numbers of the people encroach so much on the means of subsistence that food wholly rejected in other countries is eagerly sought after there."

Nor is it of trifling import to this very subject, of the adaptation of a government to the condition and wants of a people, to remember that the China-man sits as complacently over his dish of rats, as the Frenchman over his frogs, the Englishman over his plum pudding, or the Yankee over his

dish of greens. Life is made up of an endless string of small matters, and, if these are agreeable, they constitute happiness. Now, why should not the digestion of a rat solace the China-man as well as the mincing of a fricaseed toad the dainty Frank?

It follows, as a natural consequence, that, since government springs out of society, and is moulded in its various forms by causes peculiar to each community, it must be forever essentially and emphatically a result. The instrumentality of mankind in its formation, may be said to be entirely involuntary. And no more forcible illustration of this can be found, than that presented in the germination of the present European systems. Emigration and conquest have generally been the beginnings. First came the Goths across the Danube; followed by the Franks into Gaul, and the Vandals through Germany; then, at a later period, the Huns overran the Goths and forced them further southward; and it remained for the Turks to supersede the Huns. The Vandals, after ravaging Africa, were succeeded by the Moors. The Britons were overrun by the Saxons, and they, in turn, were subdued by the Normans. All these excursions were for plunder; yet they laid the foundation of the grand connecting system between ancient and modern Europe--the feudal system. The whole conglomeration of Ostrogoths and Visigoths, Burgundians, Lombards and Franks, Huns, Moors and Turks, were but hordes of desperate barbarians, incited to pillage by rude but heroic leaders. Their chief spoil was the land they seized upon. The great chiefs parcelled this out, to their prominent accomplices, in feud. The conditional tenure thus obtained gradually became hereditary; and from this a landed aristocracy sprang up, which, of course, was also hereditary. Thus originated the system of nobility: so perfectly unknown elsewhere. The nobles, with their lands, under such men as Clovis and Charlemagne, were consolidated into kingdoms, in which the mixed principles of monarchy and aristocracy were blended. This mixture of principle, stimulated, it is true, by the strong passions of the age, and tempered by the civilizing influence of chivalry, brought forward the spirit of compromise, and laid the

« ElőzőTovább »