Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

states when in their greatest perfection; and did all that human wisdom could do for rendering it durable, and transmitting it pure and entire to future generations. But as all things under the sun are subject to change, and children are too apt to forget and degenerate from the virtues of their fathers, there seems great reason to fear, that what has happened to those free states may at length prove the melan. choly fate of our own country; especially when we reflect, that the same causes, which contributed to their ruin, operate at this time so very strongly amongst us. As I thought therefore that it might be of some use to my country at this dangerous crisis, I have selected the interesting examples of those once free and powerful nations, who by totally deviating from those principles upon which they were originally founded, lost first their liberty, and at last their very existence, so far as to leave no other vestiges remaining of them as a people, but what are to be found in the records of history.

It is an undoubted truth, that our own constitution has at different times suffered very severe shocks, and been reduced more than once to the very point of ruin : but because it has hitherto providentially escaped, we are not to flatter ourselves that opportunities of recovery will always offer. To me therefore the method of proof drawn from example, seemed more striking, as well as more level to every capacity, than all speculative reasoning: for as the same causes will, by the stated laws of sublunary affairs,

[ocr errors][merged small]

sooner or later invariably produce the same effects, so whenever we see the same maxims of government prevail, the same measures pursued, and the same coincidences of circumstances happen in our own country, which brought on, and attend the subversion of those states, we may plainly read our own fate in their catastrophe, unless we apply speedy and effectual remedies, before our case is past recovery. It is the best way to learn wisdom in time from the fate of others; and if examples will not instruct and make us wiser, I confess myself utterly at a loss to know what will.

[ocr errors]

In my reflections, which naturally arose in the course of these researches, truth and impartiality have been my only guides. I have endeavoured to show the principal causes of that degeneracy of manners, which reduced those once brave and free people into the most abject slavery. I have marked the alarming progress which the same evils have already made, and still continue to make amongst us, with that honest freedom which is the birthright of every Englishman. My sole aim is to excite those who have the welfare of their country at heart, to unite their endeavours in opposing the fatal tendency of those evils, whilst they are within the power of remedy. With this view, and this only, I have marked out the remote as well as immediate causes of the ruin of those states, as so many beacons warning us to avoid the same rocks upon which they struck, and at last suffered shipwreck.

Truth will ever be unpalatable to those who are determined not to relinquish error, but can never give offence to the honest and well-meaning amongst my countrymen. For the plain-dealing remonstrances of a friend differ as widely from the rancour of an enemy, as the friendly probe of the physician from the dagger of the assassin.

ON THE

RISE AND FALL

OF THE

ANCIENT REPUBLICKS.

CHAPTER I.

OF THE REPUBLICK OF SPARTA.

ALL the free states of Greece were at first mon. archical,* and seem to owe their liberty rather to the injudicious oppressions of their respective kings, than to any natural propensity in the people to alter their form of government. But as they had smarted so severely under an excess of power lodged in the hands of one man, they were too apt to run into the other extreme, democracy; a state of government the most subject of all others to disunion and faction.

Of all the Grecian states, that of Sparta seems to have been the most unhappy, before their govern. ment was new modelled by Lycurgus. The autho.. rity of their kings and their laws (as Plutarch

• Dion. Halicarn. p. 248. edit. Rob. Steph. 1546.

B

[ocr errors]

informs us) were alike trampled upon and despised. Nothing could restrain the insolence of the head. strong encroaching populace; and the whole government sunk into anarchy and confusion. From this deplorable situation the wisdom and virtue of one great man raised his country to that height of power, which was the envy and the terror of her neighbours. A convincing proof how far the influence of one great and good man will operate towards reforming the most bold licentious people, when he has once thoroughly acquired their es. teem and confidence! Upon this principle Lycurgus founded his plan of totally altering and new moulding the constitution of his country. A design, all circumstances considered, the most daring, and the most happily executed, of any yet immortalized in history.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

Lycurgus sụcceeded to the moiety of the crown of Sparta at the death of his elder brother; but his brother's widow declaring herself with child, and that child proving to be a son, he immediately resigned the regal dignity to the new born infant, and governed as protector and guardian of the young prince during his minority. The generous and disinterested behaviour of Lycurgus upon this occasion endeared him greatly to the people; who had already

* Plutarch relates this affair greatly to the honour of Lycurgus in the beginning of his life

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »