IF a concatenation of events centred in one great action--events which gave birth to the present commercial system of the world--if these be of the first importance in the civil history of mankind, then the Lusiad, of all other poems, challenges the attention of the philosopher, the politician, and the gentleman.
In contradistinction to the Iliad and the Æneid, the Paradise Lost has been called the Epic Poem of Religion. In the same manner may the Lusiad be named the Epic Poem of Commerce. The happy completion of the most important designs of Henry, Duke of Viseo, prince of Portugal, to whom Europe owes both Gama and Columbus, both the eastern and the western worlds, constitutes the subject of this celebrated epic poem. But before we proceed to the historical introduction necessary to elucidate a poem founded on such an important period of history, some attention is due to the opinion of those theorists in political philosophy who lament that India was ever discovered, and who assert that increase of trade is only the parent of degeneracy, and the nurse of every vice.
Much, indeed, may be urged on this side of the question; but much, also, may be urged against every institution relative to man. Imperfection, if not necessary to humanity, is at least the certain attendant on everything human. Though some part of the traffic with many countries resemble Solomon’s importation of apes and peacocks; though the superfluities of life, the baubles of the opulent, and even the luxuries which enervate the irresolute and administer disease, are introduced by the intercourse of navigation, yet the extent of the benefits which attend it are also to be considered
before the man of cool reason will venture to pronounce that the world is injured, and rendered less virtuous and happy by the increase of commerce.
If a view of the state of mankind, where commerce opens no intercourse between nation and nation be neglected, unjust conclusions will certainly follow. Where the state of barbarians, and of countries under different degrees of civilization are candidly weighed, we may reasonably expect a just decision. As evidently as the appointment of nature gives pasture to the herds, so evidently is man born for society. As every other animal is in its natural state when in the situation which its instinct requires, so man, when his reason is cultivated, is then, and only then, in the state proper to his nature. The life of the naked savage, who feeds on acorns and sleeps like a beast in his den, is commonly called the natural state of man; but, if there be any propriety in this assertion, his rational faculties compose no part of his nature, and were given not to be used. If the savage, therefore, live in a state contrary to the appointment of nature, it must follow that he is not so happy as nature intended him to be. And a view of his true character will confirm this conclusion. The reveries, the fairy dreams of a Rousseau, may figure the paradisaical life of a Hottentot, but it is only in such dreams that the superior happiness of the barbarian exists. The savage, it is true, is reluctant to leave his manner of life; but, unless we allow that he is a proper judge of the modes of living, his attachment to his own by no means proves that he is happier than he might otherwise have been. His attachment only exemplifies the amazing power of habit in reconciling the human breast to the most uncomfortable situations. If the intercourse of mankind in some instances be introductive of vice, the want of it as certainly excludes the exertion of the noblest virtues; and, if the seeds of virtue are indeed in the heart, they often lie dormant, and even unknown to the savage possessor. The most beautiful description of a tribe of savages (which we may be assured is from real life) occurs in these words: * And the five spies of Dan "came to Laish, and saw the people that were there, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in anything . . . ." And the spies said to their brethren, "Arise, that we may go up against them; for we have
seen the land, and, behold, it is very good. . . . And they came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire. And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man." However the happy simplicity of this society may please the man of fine imagination, the true philosopher will view the men of Laish with other eyes. However virtuous he may suppose one generation, it requires an alteration of human nature to preserve the children of the next in the same generous estrangement from the selfish passions--from those passions which are the parents of the acts of injustice. When his wants are easily supplied, the manners of the savage will be simple, and often humane, for the human heart is not vicious without objects of temptation. But these will soon occur; he that gathers the greatest quantity of fruit will be envied by the less industrious. The uninformed mind seems insensible of the idea of the right of possession which the labour of acquirement gives. When want is pressing, and the supply at hand, the only consideration with such minds is the danger of seizing it; and where there is no magistrate to put to shame in anything, depredation will soon display all its horrors. Let it even be admitted that the innocence of the men of Laish could secure them from the consequences of their own unrestrained desires, could even this impossibility be surmounted, still are they a wretched prey to the first invaders, and because they have no business with any man, they will find no deliverer. While human nature is the same, the fate of Laish will always be the fate of the weak and defenceless; and thus the most amiable description of savage life raises in our minds the strongest imagery of the misery and impossible continuance of such a state. But if the view of these innocent people terminate in horror, with what contemplation shall we behold the wilds of Africa and America? The tribes of America, it is true, have degrees of policy greatly superior to anything understood by the men of Laish. Great masters of martial oratory, their popular assemblies are schools open to all their youth. In these they not only learn the history of their nation, and what they have to fear from the strength and designs of their enemies, but they also imbibe the most ardent spirit of war. The arts of stratagem are their study, and the most athletic exercises of the field their employment and delight; and, what is their greatest praise, they have magistrates "to put them
to shame. "They inflict no corporeal punishment on their countrymen, it is true; but a reprimand from an elder, delivered in the assembly, is esteemed by them a deeper degradation and severer punishment than any of those too often most impolitically adopted by civilized nations. Yet, though possessed of this advantage--an advantage impossible to exist in a large commercial empire--and though masters of great martial policy, their condition, upon the whole, is big with the most striking demonstration of the misery and unnatural state of such very imperfect civilization. "Multiply and replenish the earth" is an injunction of the best political philosophy ever given to man. Nature has appointed man to cultivate the earth, to increase in number by the food which its culture gives, and by this increase of brethren to remove some, and to mitigate all, the natural miseries of human life. But in direct opposition to this is the political state of the wild aborigines of America. Their lands, luxuriant in climate, are often desolate wastes, where thousands of miles hardly support a few hundreds of savage hunters. Attachment to their own tribe constitutes their highest idea of virtue; but this virtue includes the most brutal depravity, makes them esteem the man of every other tribe as an enemy, as one with whom nature had placed them in a state of war, and had commanded to destroy. * And to this principle their customs and ideas of honour serve as rituals and ministers. The cruelties practised by the American savages on their prisoners of war (and war is their chief employment) convey every idea expressed by the word diabolical, and give a most shocking view of the degradation of human nature. But what peculiarly completes the character of the savage is his horrible superstition. In the most distant nations the savage is, in this respect, the same. The terror of evil spirits continually haunts him; his God is beheld as a relentless tyrant, and is worshipped often with cruel rites, always with a heart full of horror and fear. In all the numerous accounts of savage worship, one trace of filial dependence is not to be found. The very reverse of that happy idea is the
hell of the ignorant mind. Nor is this barbarism confined alone to those ignorant tribes whom we call savages. The vulgar of every country possess it in certain degrees, proportionated to their opportunities of conversation with the more enlightened. Sordid disposition and base ferocity, together with the most unhappy superstition, are everywhere the proportionate attendants of ignorance and severe want. And ignorance and want are only removed by intercourse and the offices of society. So self-evident are these positions, that it requires an apology for insisting upon them; but the apology is at hand. He who has read knows how many eminent writers, * and he who has conversed knows how many respectable names, connect the idea of innocence and happiness with the life of the savage and the unimproved rustic. To fix the character of the savage is therefore necessary, ere we examine the assertion, that "it had been happy for both the old and the new worlds if the East and West Indies had never been discovered." The bloodshed and the attendant miseries which the unparalleled rapine and cruelties of the Spaniards spread over the new world, indeed disgrace human nature. The great and flourishing empires of Mexico and Peru, steeped in the blood of forty millions of their sons, present a melancholy prospect, which must
excite the indignation of every good heart. Yet such desolation is not the certain consequence of discovery. And, even should we allow that the depravity of human nature is so great that the avarice of the merchant and rapacity of the soldier will overwhelm with misery every new-discovered country, still, are there other, more comprehensive views, to be taken, ere we decide against the intercourse introduced by navigation. When we weigh the happiness of Europe in the scale of political philosophy, we are not to confine our eye to the dreadful ravages of Attila the Hun, or of Alaric the Goth. If the waters of a stagnated lake are disturbed by the spade when led into new channels, we ought not to inveigh against the alteration because the waters are fouled at the first; we are to wait to see the streamlets refine and spread beauty and utility through a thousand vales which they never visited before. Such were the conquests of Alexander, temporary evils, but civilization and happiness followed in the bloody track. And, though disgraced with every barbarity, happiness has also followed the conquests of the Spaniards in the other hemisphere. Though the villainy of the Jesuits defeated their schemes of civilization in many countries, the labours of that society have been crowned with a success in Paraguay and in Canada, which reflects upon their industry the greatest honour. The customs and cruelties of many American tribes still disgrace human nature, but in Paraguay and Canada the natives have been brought to relish the blessings of society, and the arts of virtuous and civil life. If Mexico is not so populous as it once was, neither is it so barbarous; * the
shrieks of the human victim do not now resound from temple to temple, nor does the human heart, held up reeking to the sun, imprecate the vengeance of Heaven on the guilty empire. And, however impolitically despotic the Spanish governments may be, still do these colonies enjoy the opportunities of improvement, which in every age arise from the knowledge of commerce and of letters--opportunities which were never enjoyed in South America under the reigns of Montezuma and Atabalipa. But if from Spanish, we turn our eyes to British America, what a glorious prospect! Here, formerly, on the wild lawn, perhaps twice in the year, a few savage hunters kindled their evening fire, kindled it more to protect them from evil spirits and beasts of prey, than from the cold, and with their feet pointed to it, slept on the ground. Here, now, population spreads her thousands, and society appears in all its blessings of mutual help, and the mutual lights of intellectual improvement. "What work of art, or power, or public utility, has ever equalled the glory of having peopled a continent, without guilt or bloodshed, with a multitude of free and happy commonwealths; to have given them the best arts of life and government!" To have given a savage continent an image of the British Constitution is, indeed, the greatest glory of the British crown, "a greater than any other nation ever acquired;" and from the consequences of the genius of Henry, Duke of Viseo, did the British American empire arise, an empire which, unless retarded by the illiberal and inhuman spirit of religious fanaticism, will in a few centuries, perhaps, be the glory of the world.
Stubborn indeed must be the theorist who will deny the improvement,
virtue, and happiness which, in the result, the voyage of Columbus has spread over the western world. The happiness which Europe and Asia have received from the intercourse with each other, cannot hitherto, it must be owned, be compared either with the possession of it, or the source of its increase established in America. Yet, let the man of the most melancholy views estimate all the wars and depredations which are charged upon the Portuguese and other European nations, still will the eastern world appear considerably advantaged by the voyage of Gama. If seas of blood have been shed by the Portuguese, nothing new was introduced into India. War and depredation were no unheard-of strangers on the banks of the Ganges, nor could the nature of the civil establishments of the eastern nations secure a lasting peace. The ambition of their native princes was only diverted into new channels, into channels which, in the natural course of human affairs, will certainly lead to permanent governments, established on improved laws and just dominion. Yet, even ere such governments are formed, is Asia no loser by the arrival of Europeans. The horrid massacres and unbounded rapine which, according to their own annals, followed the victories of their Asian conquerors were never equalled by the worst of their European vanquishers. Nor is the establishment of improved governments in the East the dream of theory. The superiority of the civil and military arts of the British, notwithstanding the hateful character of some individuals, is at this day beheld in India with all the astonishment of admiration; and admiration is always followed, though often with retarded steps, by the strong desire of similar improvement. Long after the fall of the Roman empire the Roman laws were adopted by nations which ancient Rome esteemed as barbarous. And thus, in the course of’ ages, the British laws, according to every test of probability, will have a most important effect, will fulfil the prophecy of Camoëns, and transfer to the British the high compliment he pays to his countrymen--
In former ages, and within these few years, the fertile empire of India has exhibited every scene of human misery, under the undistinguishing ravages of their Mohammedan and native princes;
ravages only equalled in European history by those committed under Attila, surnamed "the scourge of God," and "the destroyer of nations." The ideas of patriotism and of honour were seldom known in the cabinets of the eastern princes till the arrival of the Europeans. Every species of assassination was the policy of their courts, and every act of unrestrained rapine and massacre followed the path of victory. But some of the Portuguese governors, and many of the English officers, have taught them that humanity to the conquered is the best, the truest policy. The brutal ferocity of their own conquerors is now the object of their greatest dread; and the superiority of the British in war has convinced their princes, * that an alliance with the British is the surest guarantee of their national peace and prosperity. While the English East India Company are possessed of their present greatness, it is in their power to diffuse over the East every blessing which flows from the wisest and most humane policy. Long ere the Europeans arrived, a failure of the crop of rice, the principal food of India, had spread the devastations of famine over the populous plains of Bengal. And never, from the seven years’ famine of ancient Egypt to the present day, was there a natural scarcity in any country which did not enrich the proprietors of the granaries. The Mohammedan princes, and Moorish traders have often added all the horrors of an artificial, to a natural, famine. But, however some Portuguese or other governors may stand accused, much was left for the humanity of the more exalted policy of an Albuquerque, or a Castro. And under such European governors as these, the distresses of the East have often been alleviated by a generosity of conduct, and a train of resources formerly unknown in Asia. Absurd and impracticable were that scheme which would introduce the British laws into India without the deepest regard to the manners and circumstances peculiar to the people. But that spirit of liberty upon which they are founded, and that security of property which is their leading principle, must in time have a wide and stupendous effect. The abject spirit of Asiatic submission will be taught to see, and to claim, those rights of nature, of which the dispirited and passive Hindus could, till lately, hardly form an idea. From this, as naturally as the noon
succeeds the dawn, must the other blessings of civilization arise. For, though the four great castes of India are almost inaccessible to the introduction of other manners, and of other literature than their own, happily there is in human nature a propensity to change. Nor may the political philosopher be deemed an enthusiast who would boldly prophesy, that unless the British be driven from India the general superiority which they bear will, ere many generations shall have passed, induce the most intelligent of India to break the shackles of their absurd superstitions, * and lead them to partake of those advantages which arise from the free scope and due cultivation of the rational powers. In almost every instance the Indian institutions are contrary to the feelings and wishes of nature. And ignorance and bigotry, their two chief pillars, can never secure unalterable duration. We have certain proof that the horrid custom of burning the wives along with the body of the deceased husband has continued for upwards of fifteen hundred years; we are also certain that within these twenty years it has begun to fall into disuse. Together with the alteration of this most striking feature of Indian manners, other assimilations to European sentiments have already taken place. Nor can the obstinacy even of the conceited Chinese always resist the desire of imitating the Europeans, a people who in arts and arms are so greatly superior to themselves. The use of the twenty-four letters, by which we can express every language, appeared at first as miraculous to the Chinese. Prejudice cannot always deprive that people, who are not deficient in selfish cunning, of the ease and expedition of an alphabet; and it is easy to foresee that, in the course of a few centuries, some alphabet will certainly take the place of the 60,000 arbitrary marks which now render the cultivation of the Chinese literature not only a labour of the utmost difficulty, but even the attainment impossible beyond a very limited degree. And from the introduction of an alphabet, what improvements may not be expected from the laborious industry of the Chinese! Though most obstinately attached to their old customs, yet there is a tide in the manners of nations which is sudden and rapid, and which acts with a kind of instinctive fury against ancient prejudice and absurdity. It was that nation of merchants, the Phœnicians, which diffused the
use of letters through the ancient, and commerce will undoubtedly diffuse the same blessings through the modern, world.
To this view of the political happiness which is sure to be introduced in proportion to civilization, let the divine add what may be reasonably expected from such opportunity of the increase of religion. A factory of merchants, indeed, has seldom been found to be a school of piety; yet, when the general manners of a people become assimilated to those of a more rational worship, something more than ever was produced by an infant mission, or the neighbourhood of an infant colony, may then be reasonably expected, and even foretold.
In estimating the political happiness of a people, nothing is of greater importance than their capacity of, and tendency to, improvement. As a dead lake, to continue our former illustration, will remain in the same state for ages and ages, so would the bigotry and superstitions of the East continue the same. But if the lake is begun to be opened into a thousand rivulets, who knows over what unnumbered fields, barren before, they may diffuse the blessings of fertility, and turn a dreary wilderness into a land of society and joy.
In contrast to this, let the Gold Coast and other immense regions of Africa be contemplated--
Let us consider how many millions of these unhappy savages are dragged from their native fields, and cut off for ever from all the hopes and all the rights to which human birth entitled them. And who would hesitate to pronounce that negro the greatest of patriots, who, by teaching his countrymen the arts of society, should teach them to defend themselves in the possession of their fields, their families, and their own personal liberties?
Evident, however, as it is, that the voyages of Gama and Columbus have already carried a superior degree of happiness, and the promise of infinitely more, to the eastern and western worlds; yet the advantages to Europe from the discovery of these regions may perhaps be denied. But let us view what Europe was, ere the genius of Don Henry gave birth to the spirit of modern discovery.
Several ages before this period the feudal system had degenerated into the most absolute tyranny. The barons exercised the most despotic authority over their vassals, and every scheme of public utility was rendered impracticable by their continual petty wars with each other; to which they led their dependents as dogs to the chase. Unable to read, or to write his own name, the chieftain was entirely possessed by the most romantic opinion of military glory, and the song of his domestic minstrel constituted his highest idea of fame. The classic authors slept on the shelves of the monasteries, their dark but happy asylum, while the life of the monks resembled that of the fattened beeves which loaded their tables. Real abilities were indeed possessed by a Duns Scotus and a few others; but these were lost in the most trifling subtleties of a sophistry which they dignified with the name of casuistical divinity. Whether Adam and Eve were created with navels? and How many thousand angels might at the same instant dance upon the point of the finest needle without one jostling another? were two of the several topics of like importance which excited the acumen and engaged the controversies of the learned. While every branch of philosophical, of rational investigation, was thus unpursued and unknown, commerce, which is incompatible with the feudal system, was equally neglected and unimproved. Where the mind is enlarged and enlightened by learning, plans of commerce will rise into action, and these, in return, will from every part of the world bring new acquirements to philosophy and science. The birth of learning and commerce may be different, but their growth is mutual and dependent upon each other. They not only assist each other, but the same enlargement of mind which is necessary for perfection in the one is also necessary for perfection in the other; and the same causes impede, and are alike destructive of, both. The INTERCOURSE of mankind is the parent of each. According to the confinement or extent of intercourse, barbarity or civilization proportionately prevail. In the dark, monkish ages, the intercourse of the learned was as much impeded
and confined as that of the merchant. A few unwieldy vessels coasted the shores of Europe, and mendicant friars and ignorant pilgrims carried a miserable account of what was passing in the world from monastery to monastery. What doctor had last disputed on the peripatetic philosophy at some university, or what new heresy had last appeared, not only comprised the whole of their literary intelligence, but was delivered with little accuracy, and received with as little attention. While this thick cloud of mental darkness overspread the western world, was Don Henry, prince of Portugal, born; born to set mankind free from the feudal system, and to give to the whole world every advantage, every light that may possibly be diffused by the intercourse of unlimited commerce:--
In contrast to this melancholy view of human nature, sunk in barbarism and benighted with ignorance, let the present state of Europe be impartially estimated. Yet, though the great increase of opulence and learning cannot be denied, there are some who assert that virtue and happiness have as greatly declined. And the immense overflow of riches, from the East in particular, has been pronounced big with destruction to the British empire. Everything human, it is true, has its dark as well as its bright side; but let these popular complaints be examined, and it will be found that modern Europe, and the British empire in a very particular manner, have received the greatest and most solid advantages from the modern, enlarged system of commerce. The magic of the old romances, which could make the most withered, deformed hag, appear as the most beautiful virgin, is every day verified in popular declamation. Ancient days are there painted in the most amiable simplicity, and the modern in the most odious colours. Yet, what man of fortune in England lives in that stupendous gross luxury which every day was exhibited in the Gothic castles of the old chieftains! Four or five hundred knights
and squires in the domestic retinue of a warlike earl was not uncommon, nor was the pomp of embroidery inferior to the profuse waste of their tables; in both instances unequalled by all the mad excesses of the present age.
While the baron thus lived in all the wild glare of Gothic luxury, agriculture was almost totally neglected, and his meaner vassals fared harder, infinitely less comfortably, than the meanest industrious labourers of England do now; where the lands are uncultivated, the peasants, ill-clothed, ill-lodged, and poorly fed, pass their miserable days in sloth and filth, totally ignorant of every advantage, of every comfort which nature lays at their feet. He who passes from the trading towns and cultured fields of England to those remote villages of Scotland or Ireland which claim this description, is astonished at the comparative wretchedness of their destitute inhabitants; but few consider that these villages only exhibit a view of what Europe was ere the spirit of commerce diffused the blessings which naturally flow from her improvements. In the Hebrides the failure of a harvest almost depopulates an island. Having little or no traffic to purchase grain, numbers of the young and hale betake themselves to the continent in quest of employment and food, leaving a few, less adventurous, behind, to beget a new race, the heir of the same fortune. Yet from the same cause, from the want of traffic, the kingdom of England has often felt more dreadful effects than these. Even in the days when her Henries and Edwards plumed themselves with the trophies of France, how often has famine spread all her horrors over city and village? Our modern histories neglect this characteristic feature of ancient days; but the rude chronicles of these ages inform us, that three or four times in almost every reign was England thus visited. The failure of the crop was then severely felt, and two bad harvests in succession were almost insupportable. But commerce has now opened another scene, has armed government with the happiest power that can be exerted by the rulers of a nation--the power to prevent every extremity * which may possibly arise from bad harvests; extremities, which, in former ages, were esteemed more dreadful visitations of the wrath of Heaven than the pestilence itself. Yet modern London is not so certainly defended against the latter, its ancient visitor, than the
commonwealth by the means of commerce, under a just and humane government, is secured against the ravages of the former. If, from these great outlines of the happiness enjoyed by a commercial over an uncommercial nation, we turn our eyes to the manners, the advantages will be found no less in favour of the civilized.
Whoever is inclined to declaim at the vices of the present age, let him read, and be convinced, that the Gothic ages were less virtuous. If the spirit of chivalry prevented effeminacy, it was the foster-father of a ferocity of manners now happily unknown. Rapacity, avarice, and effeminacy are the vices ascribed to the increase of commerce; and in some degree, it must be confessed, they follow her steps. Yet infinitely more dreadful, as every palatinate in Europe often felt, were the effects of the two first under the feudal lords than can possibly be experienced under any system of trade. The virtues and vices of human nature are the same in every age: they only receive different modifications, and are dormant, or awakened into action, under different circumstances. The feudal lord had it infinitely more in his power to be rapacious than the merchant. And whatever avarice may attend the trader, his intercourse with the rest of mankind lifts him greatly above that brutish ferocity which actuates the savage, often the rustic, and in general characterizes the ignorant part of mankind. The abolition of the feudal system, a system of absolute slavery, and that equality of mankind which affords the protection of property, and every other incitement to industry, are the glorious gifts which the spirit of commerce, awakened by Prince Henry of Portugal, has bestowed upon Europe in general; and, as if directed by the manes of his mother, a daughter of England, upon the British empire in particular. In the vice of effeminacy alone, perhaps, do we exceed our ancestors; yet, even here we have infinitely the advantage over them. The brutal ferocity of former ages is now lost, and the general mind is humanized. The savage breast is the native soil of revenge; a vice, of all others, peculiarly stamped with the character of hell. But the mention of this was reserved for the character of the savages of Europe. The savage of every country is implacable when injured; but among some, revenge has its measure. When an American Indian is murdered his kindred pursue the murderer; and, as soon as blood has atoned for blood, the wilds of America hear the hostile parties join in their mutual. lamentations over the dead, whom, as an oblivion of malice, they
bury together. But the measure of revenge, never to be full, was left for the demi-savages of Europe. The vassals of the feudal lord entered into his quarrels with the most inexorable rage. Just or unjust was no consideration of theirs. It was a family feud; no farther inquiry was made; and from age to age, the parties, who never injured each other, breathed nothing but mutual rancour and revenge. And actions, suitable to this horrid spirit, everywhere confessed its virulent influence. Such were the late days of Europe, admired by the ignorant for the innocence of manners. Resentment of injury, indeed, is natural; and there is a degree which is honest, and though warm, far from inhuman. But if it is the hard task of humanized virtue to preserve the feeling of an injury unmixed with the slightest criminal wish of revenge, how impossible is it for the savage to attain the dignity of forgiveness, the greatest ornament of human nature. As in individuals, a virtue will rise into a vice, generosity into blind profusion, and even mercy into criminal lenity, so civilized manners will lead the opulent into effeminacy. But let it be considered, this consequence is by no means the certain result of civilization. Civilization, on the contrary, provides the most effectual preventive of this evil. Where classical literature prevails the ’manly spirit which it breathes must be diffused: whenever frivolousness predominates, when refinement degenerates into whatever enervates the mind, literary ignorance is sure to complete the effeminate character. A mediocrity of virtues and of talents is the lot of the great majority of mankind; and even this mediocrity, if cultivated by a liberal education, will infallibly secure its possessor against those excesses of effeminacy which are really culpable. To be of plain manners it is not necessary to be a clown, or to wear coarse clothes; nor is it necessary to lie on the ground and feed like the savage to be truly manly. The beggar who, behind the hedge, divides his offals with his dog has often more of the real sensualist than he who dines at an elegant table. Nor need we hesitate to assert, that he who, unable to preserve a manly elegance of manners, degenerates into the petit maitre, would have been, in any age or condition, equally insignificant and worthless. Some, when they talk of the debauchery of the present age, seem to think that the former ages were all innocence. But this is ignorance of human nature. The debauchery of a barbarous age is gross and brutal; that of a gloomy, superstitious one, secret, excessive, and murderous; that of a more polished one, much happier
for the fair sex, * and certainly in no sense so big with political unhappiness. If one disease has been imported from America, † the most valuable medicines have likewise been brought from these regions; and distempers, which were thought invincible by our forefathers, are now cured. If the luxuries of the Indies usher disease to our tables the consequence is not unknown; the wise and the temperate receive no injury, and intemperance has been the destroyer of mankind in every age. The opulence of ancient Rome produced a luxury of manners which proved fatal to that mighty empire. But the effeminate sensualists of those ages were not men of intellectual cultivation. The enlarged ideas, the generous and manly feelings inspired by a liberal education, were utterly unknown to them. Unformed by that wisdom which arises from science and true philosophy, they were gross barbarians, dressed in the mere outward tinsel of civilization. ‡ Where the enthusiasm of military honour characterizes the rank of gentlemen that nation will rise into empire. But no sooner does conquest give a continued security than the mere soldier degenerates; and the old veterans are soon succeeded by a new generation, illiterate as their fathers, but destitute of their virtues and experience. Polite literature not only humanizes the heart, but also wonderfully strengthens and enlarges the mind. Moral and political philosophy are its peculiar provinces, and are never happily cultivated without its assistance. But, where ignorance characterizes the body of the nobility, the most insipid dissipation and the very
idleness and effeminacy of luxury are sure to follow. Titles and family are then the only merit, and the few men of business who surround the throne have it then in their power to aggrandize themselves by riveting the chains of slavery. A stately grandeur is preserved, but it is only outward; all is decayed within, and on the first storm the weak fabric falls to the dust. Thus rose and thus fell the empire of Rome, and the much wider one of Portugal. Though the increase of wealth did, indeed, contribute to that corruption of manners which unnerved the Portuguese, certain it is the wisdom of legislature might certainly have prevented every evil which Spain and Portugal have experienced from their acquisitions in the two Indies. * Every evil which they have suffered from their acquirements arose, as shall be hereafter demonstrated, from their general ignorance, which rendered them unable to investigate or apprehend even the first principles of civil and commercial philosophy. And what other than the total eclipse of their glory could be expected from a nobility, rude and unlettered as those of Portugal are described by the author of the Lusiad--a court and nobility who sealed the truth of all his complaints against them by suffering that great man, the light of their age, to die in an almshouse! What but the fall of their state could be expected from barbarians like these! Nor can the annals of mankind produce one instance of the fall of empire where the character of the nobles was other than that ascribed to his countrymen by Camoëns.
xxxv:* Judges xviii. 7, 9, 27, 28.
xxxvii:* This ferocity of savage manners affords a philosophical account how the most distant and inhospitable climes were first peopled. When a Romulus erects a monarchy and makes war on his neighbours, some naturally fly to the wilds. As their families increase, the stronger commit depredations on the weaker; and thus from generation to generation, they who either dread just punishment or unjust oppression, fly farther and farther in search of that protection which is only to be found in civilized society.
xxxviii:* The author of that voluminous work, Histoire Philosophique et Politique des Etablissements et du Commerce des Européens dans les deux Indes, is one of the many who assert that savage life is happier than civil. His reasons are thus abridged: The savage has no care or fear for the future; his hunting and fishing give him a certain subsistence. He sleeps sound, and knows not the diseases of cities. He cannot want what he does not desire, nor desire that which he does not know, and vexation or grief do not enter his soul. He is not under the control of a superior in his actions; in a word, says our author, the savage only suffers the evils of nature.
If the civilized, he adds, enjoy the elegancies of life, have better food, and are more comfortably defended against the change of seasons, it is use which makes these things necessary, and they are purchased by the painful labours of the multitude who are the basis of society. To what outrages is not the man of civil life exposed? If he has property, it is in danger; and government or authority is, according to our author, the greatest of all evils. If there is a famine in North America, the savage, led by the wind and the sun, can go to a better clime; but in the horrors of famine, war, or pestilence, the ports and barriers of civilized states place the subjects in a prison, where they must perish. There still remains an infinite difference between the lot of the civilized and the savage; a difference, all entirely to the disadvantage of society, that injustice which reigns in the inequality of fortunes and conditions.
xxxix:* The innocent simplicity of the Americans in their conferences with the Spaniards, and the horrid cruelties they suffered from them, divert our view from their complete character. Almost everything was horrid in their civil customs and religious rites. In some tribes, to cohabit with their mothers, sisters, and daughters was esteemed the means of domestic peace. In others, catamites were maintained in every village; they went from house to house as they pleased, and it was unlawful to refuse them what victuals they chose. In every tribe, the captives taken in war were murdered with the most wanton cruelty, and afterwards devoured by the victors. Their religious rites were, if possible, still more horrid. The abominations of ancient Moloch were here outnumbered; children, virgins, slaves, and captives bled on different altars, to appease their various gods. If there was a scarcity of human victims, the priests announced that the gods were dying of thirst for human blood. And, to prevent a threatened famine, the kings of Mexico were obliged to make war on the neighbouring states. The prisoners of either side died by the hand of the priest. But the number of the Mexican sacrifices so greatly exceeded those of other p. xl nations, that the Tlascalans, who were hunted down for this purpose, readily joined Cortez with about 200,000 men, and enabled him to make one great sacrifice of the Mexican nation. Who that views Mexico, steeped in her own blood, can restrain the emotion which whispers to him, This is the hand of Heaven!--By the number of these sacred butcheries, one would think that cruelty was the greatest amusement of Mexico. At the dedication of the temple of Vitzliputzli, A.D. 1486, no less than 64,080 human victims were sacrificed in four days. And, according to the best accounts, the annual sacrifices of Mexico required several thousands. The skulls of the victims sometimes were hung on strings which reached from tree to tree around their temples, and sometimes were built up in towers and cemented with lime. In some of these towers Andrew de Tapia one day counted 136,000 skulls. During the war with Cortez they increased their usual sacrifices, till priest and people were tired of their bloody religion.--See, for ample justification of these statements, the Histories of the Conquest of Mexico and Peru, by Prescott.--Ed.
xlii:* Mahommed Ali Khan, Nawab of the Carnatic, declared, "I met the British with that freedom of openness which they love, and I esteem it my honour as well as security to be the ally of such a nation of princes."
xliii:* Every man must follow his father’s trade, and must marry a daughter of the same occupation. Innumerable are their other barbarous restrictions of genius and inclination.
xlvii:* Extremity; for it were both highly unjust and impolitic in government to allow importation in such a degree as might be destructive of domestic agriculture.
l:* Even that warm admirer of savage happiness, the author of Histoire Philosophique et Politique des Etablissements, confesses that the wild Americans seem destitute of the feeling of love. When the heat of passion, says he, is gratified, they lose all affection and attachment for their women, whom they degrade to the most servile offices.--A tender remembrance of the first endearments, a generous participation of care and hope, the compassionate sentiments of honour; all these delicate feelings, which arise into affection, and bind attachment, are indeed, incompatible with the ferocious and gross sensations of barbarians.
l:† It is a question still debated among medical writers, and by no means yet decided, whether the disease referred to is of American origin. We do not read, it is true, of any such disease in the pages of the ancient classic writers; it has hence been inferred that it was unknown to them.--Ed.
l:‡ The degeneracy of the Roman literature preceded the fate of the state, and the reason is obvious. The men of fortune grew frivolous, and superficial in every branch of knowledge, and were therefore unable to hold the reigns of empire. The degeneracy of literary taste is, therefore, the surest proof of the general ignorance.
li:* The soldiers and navigators were the only considerable gainers by their acquirements in the Indies. Agriculture and manufactures are the natural strength of a nation; these received little or no increase in Spain and Portugal by the great acquisitions of these crowns.