صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

prefide over works of genius. An " Inquiry into the origin of our ideas of the fublime and beautiful" had long engaged his attention, and exercifed his pen. It may be confidered as a hive where this Attic bee was ftudioufly collecting the fweets of ancient and modern compofition. His intention was to bring it out in the beginning of the year 1756; but the noife at that time excited by lord BOLINGBROKE'S pofthumous works induced Mr. BURKE to keep back for a few months his favorite effay, and to make his debut, or first appearance before the literary world, in the character of the deceafed nobleman.* He foon put the fagacity of critics to the proof by a pamphlet entitled "A Vindication of natural Society; or a View of the Miseries and Evils arifing to Mankind from every Species of artificial Society, in a letter to lord *** by a late noble Writer." To the first edition was prefixed a curious advertisement in these words: "The following letter appears to have been written about the year 1748, and the perfon to whom it is addreffed need not be pointed out. As it is probable the noble writer had no defign that it should ever appear in public, this will account for his having kept no copy of it, and confequently for its not appearing among the rest of his works. By what means it came into the hands of the editor is not at all material to the public, any further than as fuch an account might tend to authenticate the genuineness of it, and for this it was thought it might fafely rely on its own internal evidence."

An air of authenticity was fpread over the whole performance. The ftile and manner of the fuppofed original were hit off with fo

He had affifted his friend Mr. WILLIAM BURKE in writing the Hiftory of the European. Colonies in America, which came out in 1751; but as that was a joint production, it cannot be allowed the firft place in the catalogue of his own genuine compofitions.


much exactness as to deceive at firft fight fome very good judges. The richness of imagery, the declamatory ardor, the impetuous and overbearing eloquence, in a word, all the characteristical beauties and defects of BOLINGBROKE appeared in every page of this admirable counterfeit. To afpire to notice by an imitation of fo eminent a writer was certainly a bold attempt: but the young eagle felt his own ftrength of pinion: he foared aloft on daring wing: he viewed the fun with undazzled eye; and thewed himfelf able to bear the bolt of heaven in his pounces.

When Mr. BURKE thought proper to undeceive the public, he faid, the defign of his pamphlet was to demonftrate that the fame engines, which were employed for the deftruction of religion, might be employed with equal fuccefs for the fubverfion of government; and that it was more easy to maintain a wrong cause, or give a glofs to ingenious falfhoods, than to establish a doubtful truth by folid argument. In this fpecimen of the abuse of reason, as he calls it, he takes a glance at the condition of mankind in a ftate of nature, fubject to many and great inconveniencies. "Want of union," fays he, " want of mutual affiftance, want of a common arbitrator to refort to in their differences---these were evils, which they could not but have felt pretty feverely on many occafions. The original children of the earth lived with their brethren of the other kinds in much equality. Their diet must have been confined almost wholly to the vegetable kind; and the same tree, which in its flourishing state produced them berries, in its decay gave them an habitation. The mutual defires of the fexes uniting their bodies and affections, and the children which were the results of these intercourfes, introduced firft the notion of fociety, aud taught its conveniencies. This fociety, founded in natural appetites and inftincts, and not in any pofitive inftitution, I fhall call natural fociety. Thus far nature went, and fucceeded; but


[ocr errors]

man would go farther. The great error of our nature is, not to
know where to stop,---not to be satisfied with any reasonable ac-
quirement,---not to compound with our condition,---but to lofe
all we have gained by an infatiable pursuit after more. Man
found a confiderable advantage by this union of many perfons to
form one family: he therefore judged that he would find his ac-
count proportionably in an union of many families into one body
politic; and, as nature has formed no bond of union to hold them
together, he fupplied this defect by laws. This is political fociety;
and hence the fources of what are ufually called ftates, civil fo-
cieties, or governments, into fome form of which, more extended
or restrained, all mankind have gradually fallen."

After a few remarks on the fhocks lately given to the fabric of
fuperftition and of ecclefiaftical tyranny, on the glimmerings of
light which we began to fee through the chinks and breaches of
our prifon, and on the refreshing airs of liberty which we felt,
he proceeds to inquire from hiftory and experience, whether civil
government be fuch a protector from natural evils, and such a
nurfe and increase of bleffings, as thofe of warm imaginations
promife. He first confiders the external relation which states.
bear to each other in point of friendship or enmity, and afferts,
that the good offices done by one nation to its neighbour, or the
mutual returns of kindness and civility between them, fince the
earliest period of their intercourfe, would not afford matter enough
to fill ten pages; but that war was the eternal fubject of history,
---that the first accounts we had of mankind were but fo many
accounts of their butcheries,---that all empires had been cemented
in blood,---and that, when the race of mankind began first to
form themselves into parties and combinations, the first effect of
the combination, and indeed the end for which it feemed pur-
pofely formed and beft calculated, was their mutual destruction..

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

In fupport of these affertions, he enters into a detail of historical evidence. He begins with SESOSTRIS, "the oldeft conqueror on record, opening the fcene by the deftruction of at least one million of his fpecies, unprovoked but by his ambition, without any motives but pride, cruelty, and madnefs, and without any benefit to himself; but folely to make fo many people, in the most distant countries, feel experimentally, how fevere a fcourge Providence intends for the human race, when he gives to one man the power over many, and arms his naturally impotent and feeble rage with the hands of millions, who know no common principle of action, but a blind obedience to the paffions of their ruler."

The next perfonage, whom he describes as figuring in the tragedies of this ancient theatre, is SEMIRAMIS. She carried on many wars; but he supposes, that in the expedition only against the Indians" three millions of fouls expired, with all the horrid and shocking circumstances which attend all wars, and in a quarrel, in which none of the fufferers could have the least rational concern."

Pursuing these calculations of human carnage, he looks upon it as an undeniable inference from general history," that the Babylonian, Affyrian, Median, and Perfian monarchies must have poured out feas of blood in their formation and in their deftruction. The Perfian empire alone, in its wars against the Greeks and Scythians, threw away at least four millions of its fubjects. These were their loffes abroad; but the war was brought home to them, first by AGESILAUS, and afterwards by ALEXANDER. To form the latter hero "no less than twelve hundred thousand lives must have been facrificed; but no fooner had he fallen himfelf a facrifice to his vices, than a thousand breaches were made for


for ruin to enter, and give the last hand to this scene of misery and destruction. His kingdom was rent and divided; which ferved to employ the more distinct parts to tear each other to pieces, and bury the whole in blood and flaughter. The kings of Syria and of Egypt, the kings of Pergamus and Macedon, without intermiffion worried each other for above two hundred years; until at last a strong power arising in the west rushed in upon them, and filenced their tumults, by involving all the contending parties in the same destruction. It is little to say, that the contentions between the fucceffors of ALEXANDER depopulated that part of the world of at least two millions."

A just observation is here made on the frantic and bloody difputes of the different ftates of Greece among themselves for an unprofitable fuperiority. It is, indeed, aftonishing how fo fmall a spot could furnish men fufficient to facrifice to the pitiful ambition of poffeffing five or fix thousand more acres, or two or three more villages. Yet, in contefts for fuch objects,---in the alternate horrors of foreign war and inteftine divifion, Greece confumed no less than three millions of her inhabitants. Sicily is alfo very properly reprefented as "a field of blood," whilft the mode of its government was controverted between oppofite parties, and the poffeffion ftruggled for by the natives, the Greeks, the Carthaginians and the Romans. Every page of its history was blotted and confounded by tumults, rebellions, maffacres,, affaffinations, profcriptions, and a series of horror beyond the hiftories perhaps of any other nation in the world, though all made: up of fimilar matter. The flaughters in this little island are reckoned at two millions, and those in Grecia Magna at half that number, both estimates being prefumed to fall far fhort of the reality.


« السابقةمتابعة »