Page images

effeminate luxury, by which they corrupt - their subjects. They are impoverished by every means which can be invented; and they are kept in a perpetual terrour by the horrours of a state-inquisition. Here you see a people deprived of all rational freedom, and tyrannized over by about two thousand men; and yet this body of two thousand, are so far from enjoying any liberty by the subjection of the rest, that they are in an infinitely severer state of slavery; they make themselves the most degenerate and unhappy of mankind, for no other purpose than that they may the more effectually contribute to the misery of a whole nation. In short, the regular and methodical proceedings of an aristocracy, are more intolerable than the very excesses of a despotism, and in general, much further from any remedy.

Thus, my Lord, we have pursued aristocracy through its whole progress; we have seen the seeds, the growth, and the fruit. It could boast none of the advantages of a despotism, miserable as those advantages were, and it was overloaded with an exuberance of mischiefs, unknown even to despotism itself. In effect, it is no more than a disorderly tyranny. This form therefore could be little approved, even in speculation, by those who were capable of thinking, and could be less borne in practice by any who were capable of feeling. However, the fruitful policy of man was not ġet


exhausted. He had yet another farthing-candle to supply the deficiencies of the sun. This was the third form, known by political writers under the name of democracy. Here the people transacted all publick business, or the greater part of it, in their own persons: their laws were made by themselves, and upon any failure of duty, their officers were accountable to themselves, and to them only. In all appearance, they had secured by this method the advantages of order and good government, without paying their liberty for the purchase. Now, my Lord, we are come to the master-piece of Grecian refinement, and Roman solidity, a popular government. The earliest and most celebrated republick of this model, was that of Athens. It was constructed by no less an artist, than the celebrated poet and philosopher, Solon. But no sooner was this political vessel launched from the stocks, than it overset, even in the lifetime of the builder. A tyranny immediately supervened ; not by a foreign conquest, not by accident, but


nature and constitution of a democracy. An artful man became popular, the people had power in their hands, and they devolved a considerable share of their power upon their favourite; and the only use he made of this power, was to plunge those who gave it into slavery. Accident restored their liberty, and ihe same good fortune produced men of uncommon abilities and uncom

by the


popular determination on their conduct, lest, as one of them said, their giddiness might make the people condemn where they meant to acquit; to throw in a black bean even when they intended a white one.

The Athenians made a very rapid progress to the most enormous excesses. The people, under no restraint, soon grew dissolute, luxurious, and idle. They renounced all labour, and began to subsist themselves from the publick revenues. They lost all concern for their common honour or safety, and could bear no advice that tended to reform them. At this time truth became offensive to those lords the people, and most highly dangerous to the speaker. The orators no longer ascended the rostrum, but to corrupt them further with the most fulsome adulation. These orators were all bribed by foreign princes on the one side or the other. And besides its own parties, in this city there were parties, and avowed ones too, for the Persians, Spartans, and Macedonians, supported each of them by one or more demagogues pensioned and bribed to this iniquitous service. The people, forgetful of all virtue and public spirit, and intoxicated with the flatteries of their orators (these courtiers of republicks, and endowed with the distinguishing characteristicks of all other courtiers) this people, I say, at last arrived at that pitch of madness, that they coolly and deliberately,

by by an express law, made it capital for any man to propose an application of the immense sums squandered in public shows, even to the most necessary purposes of the state. When you see the people of this republick banishing and murdering their best and ablest citizens, dissipating the publick treasure with the most senseless extravagance, and spending their whole time, as spectators or actors, in playing, fiddling, dancing and singing, does it not, my Lord, strike your imagination with the image of a sort of complex Nero? And does it not strike you with the greater horrour, when you observe, not one man only, but a whole city, grown drunk with pride and power, running with a rage of folly into the same mean and senseless debauchery and extravagance: But if this people resembled Nero in their extravagance, much more did they resemble and even exceed him in cruelty and injustice. In the time of Pericles, one of the most celebrated times in the history of that commonwealth, a King of Egypt sent them a donation of corn. This they were mean enough to accept. And had the Egyptian prince intended the ruin of this city of wicked bedlamites, he could not have taken a more effectual method to do it, than by such an ensnaring largess. The distribution of this bounty caused a quarrel; the majority set on foot an enquiry into the title of the citizens; and upon a vain pretence of illegitiVOL. I.




macy, newly and occasionally set up, they deprived of their share of the royal donation no less than five thousand of their own body. They went further; they disfranchised them; and having once begun 'with an act of injustice, they could set no bounds to it. Not content with cutting them off from the rights of citizens, they plundered these unfortunate wretches of all their substance; and to crown this master-piece of violence and tyranny, they actually sold every man of the five thousand as slaves in the publick market. Observe, my Lord, that the five thousand we here speak of, were cut off from a body of no more than nineteen thousand; for the entire number of citizens was no greater at that time. Could the tyrant who wished the Roman people but one' neck; could the tyrant Caligula himself have done, nay, he could scarcely wish for, greater mischief, than to have cut off, at one stroke, a fourth of his people? Or has the cruelty of that series of sanguine tyrants, the Cæsars, ever presented such a piece of flagrant and extensive wickedness? The whole, history of this celebrated republick is but one tissue of rashness, folly, ingratitude, injustice, tumult, violence, and tyranny, and indeed of every species of wickedness that can well be imagined. This was a city of wise men, in which a minister could not exercise his functions; a warlike people, amongst whom a 4


« PreviousContinue »