BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
No. CCCLX. OCTOBER, 1845. Vol. LVIII.
Montesquieu, 389 A Reminiscence of Boyhood. By Delta, 408 De Burtin on Pictures, 413 Manner and Matter, 431 Marston; or, the Memoirs of a Statesman. Conclusion. 439 How we Got Up the Glenmutchkin Railway, 453 The Science of Languages. Kavanagh, 467 Scrambles in Monmouthshire, 474 Neapolitan Sketches, 486 A Meditation, 494 On the Old Year, 495 Corali, ib. Biographical Sketch of Frank Abney Hastings, 496
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BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
No. CCCLX. OCTOBER, 1845. Vol. LVIII.
Montesquieu is beyond all doubt the founder of the philosophy of history. In many of its most important branches, he has carried it to a degree of perfection which has never since been surpassed. He first looked on human affairs with the eye of philosophic observation; he first sought to discover the lasting causes which influence the fate of mankind; he first traced the general laws which in every age determine the rise or decline of nations. Some of his conclusions were hasty; many of his analogies fanciful; but he first turned the human mind in that direction. It is by repeatedly deviating into error that it can alone be discovered where truth really lies: there is an alchemy in the moral, not less than in the material world, in which a vast amount of genius must be lost before it is discovered that it has taken the wrong direction. But in Montesquieu, besides such occasional and unavoidable aberrations, there is an invaluable treasure of profound views and original thought—of luminous observation and deep reflection—of philosophic observation and just generalization. His fame has been long established; it has become European; his sayings are quoted and repeated from one end of the world to the other; but to the greater part of English readers, his greatness is known rather from the distant echo of continental fame, than from any practical acquaintance with the writings from which it has arisen.
Though Montesquieu, however, is the father of the philosophy of history, it is due to Tacitus and Machiavel to say, that he is not the author of political thought. In the first of these writers is to be found the most profound observations on the working of the human mind, whether in individuals or bodies of men, that ever were formed by human sagacity: in the latter, a series of remarks on Roman history, and the corresponding events in the republics of modern Italy, which, in point of deep political wisdom and penetration, never were surpassed. Lord Bacon, too, had in his Essays put forth may maxims of political truth, with that profound sagacity and unerring wisdom by which his thoughts were so preeminently distinguished. But still these men, great as they were, and much as they added to the materials of the philosophy of history, can hardly be said to have mastered that philosophy itself. It was not their object to do so; it did not belong to the age in which they lived to make any such attempt. They gave incomparable observations upon detached points in human annals, but they did not take a general view of their tendency. They did not consider whence the world had come, or whither it was going. They formed no connected system in regard to the march of human events. They saw clearly the effects of particular measures or systems of government at the time, but they did not reflect on the chain of causes which first raised up, and afterwards undermined it. Aristotle, the most powerful intellect of the ancient world, was of the same calibre as a political observer. He considered only the effects of the various forms of government which he saw established around him. In that survey he was admirable, but he never went beyond it. Bossuet's Universal History is little more than a history of the Jews; he refers every thing to the direct and immediate agency of Providence, irrespective of the freedom of the human will. Montesquieu first fixed his eyes upon the rise, progress, and decay of nations, as worked out by the actions of free agents. The Grandeur et Decadence des Romains is as original as the Principia, and laid the foundation of a science as sublime, and perhaps still more important to man than the laws of the planetary bodies.
Charles Secondat, Baron de la Brede and Montesquieu, was born at the chateau of La Brede, near Bourdeaux, on the 18th January 1689. The estate of La Brede had been long in his family, which was a very ancient one; it had been erected into a barony in favour of Jacob de Secondat, his great-great-grandfather, by Henry IV. The office of President of the Parliament (or Local Court of Justice) of Bourdeaux, had been acquired by his family in consequence of the marriage of his father with the daughter of the first president of that tribunal. From his earliest years young Montesquieu evinced remarkable readiness and vivacity of mind; a circumstance which determined his father to breed him up to the "magistracy," as it was termed in France—a profession midway, as it were, between the career of arms peculiar to the noble, and the labours of the bar confined to persons of plebeian origin, and from which many of the greatest men, and nearly all the distinguished statesmen of France took their rise. Montesquieu entered with the characteristic ardour of his disposition into the studies suited for that destination; and at the age of twenty he had already collected the materials of the Esprit des Loix, and evinced the characteristic turn of his mind for generalization, by an immense digest which he had made of the civil law. But these dry, though important studies, did not exclusively occupy his mind; he carried on, at the same time, a great variety of other pursuits. Like all men of an active and intellectual turn of mind, his recreation was found not in repose, but in change of occupation. Books of voyages and travels were collected, and read with avidity; he devoured rather than read the classical remains of Greece and Rome. "That antiquity," said he, "enchants me, and I am always ready to say with Pliny—You are going to Athens; show respect to the gods."
It was under this feeling of devout gratitude to the master minds of the ancient world, that he made his first essay in literature, which came out in a small work in the form of letters, the object of which was to show, that the idolatry of most Pagans did of itself not merit eternal damnation. Probably there are few good Christians, from Fenelon and Tillotson downwards, who will be of an opposite opinion. Even in that juvenile production are to be found traces of the sound judgment, correct taste, and general thought which characterised his later works. But he was soon thrown into the proper labours of his profession. On the 24th February 1714, he was admitted into the parliament of Bourdeaux as a councillor; and his paternal uncle, who held the president's chair, having died two years after, young Montesquieu was, on the 13th July 1716, appointed to that important office, though only twenty-seven years of age. Probably his being thrown thus early in life into the discharge of onerous and important duties, had an important effect in producing that firmness and maturity of judgment by which his mind was subsequently distinguished. Some years afterwards, he gave a convincing proof of his fitness for the situation, in the vigour with which he remonstrated against the imposition of a fresh tax on wine, which had the effect of procuring its removal at the time, though the necessities of government led to its being reimposed some years after. But his ardent mind was not confined to professional pursuits. He concurred in the formation of an academy of sciences at Bourdeaux, and read some papers in it on natural history; and his attention being in this way turned to physical science, he wrote and published in the journals, a project for a "Physical History of the Earth, Ancient and Modern."
But in no human being was more completely exemplified the famous line—
"The proper study of mankind is man."
Montesquieu's genius was essentially moral and political; it was on man himself, not the material world with which he was surrounded, that his thoughts were fixed. This strong bent soon appeared in his writings. He next read at the academy at Bourdeaux, a "Life of the Duke of Berwick," and an "Essay on the Policy of the Romans in Religion," which was the basis of the immortal work which he afterwards composed on the rise and fall of that extraordinary people. These desultory essays gave no indication of the first considerable work which he published, which was the famous Lettres Persanes. They appeared in 1721, when he was thirty-two years of age. Their success was immediate and prodigious; a certain indication in matters of thought, that they were not destined to durable fame. They fell in with the ideas and passions of the time; they were not before it; thence their early popularity and ultimate oblivion. The work was published anonymously; for the keen but delicate satire on French manners and vices which it contained, might have endangered the author, and as it was he had no small difficulty, when it was known he was the writer, in escaping from its effects. It consists in a series of letters from an imaginary character, Usbeck, a Persian traveller, detailing the vices, manners, and customs of the French metropolis. The ingenuity, sarcasm, and truth, which that once celebrated production contains, must not make us shut our eyes to its glaring defects; the vices of the age, as they mainly contributed to its early popularity, have been the chief cause of its subsequent decline. It contains many passages improperly warm and voluptuous, and some which, under the mask of attacks on the Jesuits, had the appearance, at least, of being levelled at religion itself. No work, at that period, could attract attention in France which was not disfigured by these blemishes. Even the great mind of Montesquieu, in its first essay before the public, did not escape the contagion of the age.
But, erelong, the genius of this profound thinker was devoted to more congenial and worthy objects. In 1726, he sold his office of president of the parliament of Bourdeaux, partly in order to escape from the toils of legal pursuit and judicial business, which, in that mercantile and rising community, was attended with great labour; partly in order to be enabled to travel, and study the institutions and character of different nations—a pursuit of which he was passionately fond, and which, without doubt, had a powerful effect in giving him that vast command of detached facts in political science, and that liberal view of institutions, habits, and manners, differing in some degree from his own, by which his philosophical writings are so eminently distinguished. Here, as in the biography of almost all other really great men, it is found, that some circumstances apparently trivial or accidental have given a permanent bent to their mind; have stored it with the appropriate knowledge, and turned it, as it were, into the allotted sphere, and contributed to form the matrix in which original thought was formed, and new truth communicated by Providence to mankind. In the course of his travels, which lasted several years, he visited successively Austria, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, the Rhine, Flanders, Holland, and England—in the latter of which he lived two years. During these varied travels, he made notes on all the countries which he visited, which contributed largely to the great stock of political information which he possessed. These notes are still extant; but, unfortunately, not in such a state of maturity as to admit of publication.
On his return to France, which took place in 1732, he retired to his native chateau of La Brede, and commenced in good earnest the great business of his life. The fruit of his studies and reflections appeared in the Considerations sur les Causes de la Grandeur et de la Decadence des Romains, which was published in 1732. Great and original as this work—the most perfect of all his compositions—was, it did not give vent to the whole ideas which filled his capacious mind. Rome, great as it was, was but a single state; it was the comparison with other states, the development of the general principles which run through the jurisprudence and institutions of all nations, which occupied his thoughts. The success which attended his essay on the institutions and progress of a single people, encouraged him to enlarge his views and extend his labours. He came to embrace the whole known world, civilized and uncivilized, in his plan; and after fourteen years of assiduous labours and toil, the immortal "Spirit of Laws" appeared.
The history of Montesquieu's mind, during the progress of this great work, is singularly curious and interesting. At times he wrote to his friends that his great work advanced "a pas de geant;" at others, he was depressed by the slow progress which it made, and overwhelmed by the prodigious mass of materials which required to be worked into its composition. So distrustful was he of its success, even after the vast labour he had employed in its composition, that he sent his manuscript before publication to a friend on whose judgment he could rely—Helvetius. That friend, notwithstanding all his penetration, was so mistaken in his reckoning, that he conceived the most serious disquietude as to the ruin of Montesquieu's reputation by the publication of such a work. Such was his alarm that he did not venture to write to the author on the subject, but gave the manuscript to another critic, Saurin, the author of a work entitled Spartacus, long since extinct, who passed the same judgment upon it. Both concurred in thinking that the reputation of Montesquieu would be entirely ruined by the publication of the new manuscript; the brilliant author of the semi-voluptuous, semi-infidel Lettres Persanes, would sink into a mere Legist, a dull commentator on pandects and statutes, if he published the Esprit des Loix, "That," said Helvetius, "is what afflicts me for him, and for humanity, which he was so well qualified to have served." It was agreed between them that Helvetius should write to Montesquieu to give him an account of their joint opinion, that he should not give the work to the world in its present state. Saurin, with some reason, was afraid that Montesquieu would be hurt at their communication; but Helvetius wrote to him—"Be not uneasy; he is not hurt at our advice; he loves frankness in his friends. He is willing to bear with discussions, but answers only by sallies, and rarely changes his opinions. I have not given him ours from any idea that he would either change his conduct or modify his preconceived ideas, but from a sense of the duty of sincerity cost what it will, with friends. When the light of truth shall have dispelled the illusions of self-love, he will at least not be able to reproach us with having been less indulgent than the public."
Montesquieu, however, was not discouraged. He sent his manuscript to the press with hardly any alteration, and took for his motto, Prolem sine matre creatam; in allusion to the originality of his conception, and the total want of any previous model on which it had been formed. The work appeared in the month of July 1748; and its success, so far as the sale went, was prodigious. Before two years had elapsed, it had gone through twenty-two editions, and been translated into most of the European languages. This early success, rare in works of profound and original thought, showed, that though it was in advance of the age, it was but a little in advance; and that it had struck a key which was ready to vibrate in the national mind. Like all distinguished works, if it was much read and admired by some, it was as keenly criticized and cut to pieces by others. Madame de Deffand said it was not the Esprit des Loix he had written, but Esprit sur les Loix. This expression made a great noise; it had a certain degree of truth, just enough, when coupled with epigrammatic brevity, to make the fortune of the sayer. Encouraged by its success, the enemies of original genius, ever ready to assail it, united their forces, and Montesquieu was soon the object of repeated and envenomed attacks. It was said, that to establish certain favourite theories, he availed himself of the testimony of travellers obscure and of doubtful credit; that he leapt too rapidly from particulars to general conclusions; that he ascribed to the influence of climate and physical laws what was in fact the result of moral or political causes; that he had split the same subject into small chapters, so confusedly arranged that there was no order or system in the work; that it was still incomplete, and wanted the master-hand which was to put it together; and that it resembled the detached pieces of a mosaic pavement, each of which is fair or brilliant in itself, but which have no meaning or expression till disposed by the taste and skill of the artist. There was some truth in all these criticisms; it is rare that it is otherwise with the reproaches made against a work of original thought. Envy generally discovers a blot to hit. Malignity is seldom at a loss for some blemish to point out. It is by exaggerating slight defects, and preserving silence on great merits, that literary jealousy ever tries to work out its wretched spite. The wisdom of an author is not to resent or overlook, but in silence to profit by such sallies; converting thus the industry and envy of his enemies into a source of advantage to himself.
Montesquieu, in pursuance of these principles, passed over in silence the malignant attacks of a herd of critics, whose works are now buried in the charnel-house of time, but who strove with all the fury of envy and disappointment to extinguish his rising fame. When pressed by some of his friends to answer some of these attacks, he replied—"It is unnecessary; I am sufficiently avenged on some by the neglect of the public, on others by its indignation." The only instance in which he deviated from this wise resolution was in replying to the attacks of an anonymous critic, who, in a Journal entitled the Nouvelles Ecclesiastiques, had represented him as an atheist. In his Lettres Persanes, though he had never assailed the great principles of his religion, he had, in his sallies against the Jesuits, gone far to warrant the belief that he was inclined to do so; and had already done enough in the estimation of the tyrannical and bigoted ecclesiastics who at that period ruled the Church of France, to warrant his being included in the class of infidel writers. But his mind, chastened by years, enlightened by travelling and reflection, had come to cast off these prejudices of his age and country, the necessary result of the Romish tyranny by which it had been oppressed, but unworthy of an intellect of such grasp and candour. In the Protestant countries of Europe, particularly Holland and England, he had seen the working of Christianity detached from the rigid despotism by which the Church of Rome fetters belief, and the well-conceived appliances by which it stimulates imagination, and opens a refuge for frailty. Impressed with the new ideas thus awakened in his mind, he had in his Esprit des Loix pronounced a studious and sincere eulogium on Christianity; recommending it, not only as the most perfect of all systems of religious belief, but as the only secure basis of social order and improvement. It was material to correct the impression, partly just, partly erroneous, which his earlier and more indiscreet writings had produced; and with this view he wrote and published his Defence de l' Esprit des Loix. This little piece is a model of just and candid reasoning, accompanied with a refined and delicate vein of ridicule, which disarmed opposition without giving ground for resentment. He congratulated himself on the fine satire with which he had overthrown his enemies.—"What pleases me in my Defence, is not so much," said he, "to have floored the Ecclesiastics, as to have let them fall so gently." Posterity will find a more valuable charm in this little production; it is, that the author in it has unconsciously painted himself. His contemporaries have recorded, that in reading it they could believe they heard the writer speak; and this proves that his talents in conversation had been equal to those he displayed in writing—a combination very rare in persons of the highest class in literature.
The fame of Montesquieu, great as it was in his own country, was even greater in foreign ones. In Great Britain in particular, the Esprit des Loix early acquired a prodigious reputation. It was read and admired by all persons of thought and education. This was partly the consequence of England being so much in advance of France in the career of liberty—alike in matters civil and ecclesiastical. The new ideas, hardy thoughts, and original conceptions of the great work met with a ready reception, and cordial admiration, in the land of freedom and the Reformation—in the country where meditation had so long been turned to political subjects, contemplation to religious truth. But another cause of lasting influence also contributed to the same effect. Original genius is ever more readily and willingly admired in foreign states than its own: a prophet has no honour in his own country. He interferes too much with existing influences or reputations. To foreigners, he is more remote—more like a dead man. Human vanity is less hurt by his elevation.
The latter years of Montesquieu's life were spent almost entirely in retirement at his paternal chateau of La Brede, varied occasionally by visits to the great world at Paris. He was occupied in agriculture and gardening—tenacious of his seignorial rights, but indulgent to the last degree to his tenantry, by whom he was adored. Never was exemplified in a more remarkable manner the soothing influence of the recollections of a well-spent life on the felicity of its later years, or the fountains of happiness which may be opened in the breast itself from the calm serenity of conscious power and great achievement. He conversed much, with the farmers and peasants on his estate, whose houses he frequently entered, and whose convivialities, on occasion of a marriage or a birth, he seldom failed to attend. He often preferred their conversation to that of persons their superiors in rank or information—"for," said he, "they are not learned enough to enter into argument; they only tell you what they know, which frequently you do not know yourself." Though he lived with the great when in Paris, partly from necessity, partly from inclination, yet their society was noways necessary to his happiness. He flew as soon as he could from their brilliant assemblies to the retirement of his estate, where he found with joy, philosophy, books, and repose. Surrounded by the people of the country in their hours of leisure, after having studied man in the intercourse of the world and the history of nations, he studied it in those simple minds which nature alone had taught; and he found something to learn there. He conversed cheerfully with them; like Socrates, he drew out their talents and information; he appeared to take as much pleasure in their conversation as in that of the brilliant circles by which he was courted in the capital; he terminated their disputes by his wisdom, assuaged their sufferings by his beneficence.
In society he was uniformly affable, cheerful, and considerate. His conversation was light, agreeable, and instructive, abounding with anecdotes of the great number of eminent men with whom he had lived. Like his style in writing, it was brief, tranchant, and epigrammatic, full of wit and observation, but without a particle of bitterness or satire. In common with all men of the highest class of intellect, he was totally devoid of envy or jealousy. None more readily applauded genius or merit in others, or was more desirous on all occasions to bring it forward, and give it the due reward. No one recounted anecdotes with more vivacity, a happier effect, or less tedium. He knew that the close of all such narratives contains in general all that is pleasing in them; and therefore he hastened to arrive at it before the patience of his hearers could be exhausted. He had a perfect horror at long stories. He was frequently absent, and remained in society for some time wrapt in thought, without speaking; but never failed, on such occasions, to make amends by some unexpected remark or anecdote, which revived the languishing conversation. His mind was full: no subject could be mentioned on which he was not informed; but he never brought his knowledge ostentatiously forward, and sought rather to draw out those around him, and lead the conversation so as to make others shine, than to do so himself.
He was regular and methodical in his life; and this arose not merely from his character and disposition, but the order he had prescribed to himself in his studies. Though capable of long-continued effort and profound meditation, he never exhausted his strength; he uniformly changed the subject of his labour, or book, to some recreation, before feeling the sensation of fatigue. Temperate in his habits, serene and unruffled in his mind, he enjoyed a much larger share of happiness than falls to the lot of most men. He was fortunately married; had affectionate children, whose kindness and attentions solaced his declining years; and his remarkable prudence and economy not only preserved him from those pecuniary embarrassments so common to men of genius, but enabled him frequently to indulge the benevolence of his disposition by splendid acts of generosity. He frequently said that he had never experienced a chagrin in life which an hour's reading did not dissipate. In his later years, when his eyesight was affected he depended chiefly on listening to reading aloud, which was done alternately by his secretary and one of his daughters. He had every thing which could make life happy; an ample fortune, affectionate family, fame never contested, the consciousness of great powers nobly applied—"I have never through life," said he in his old age, "had a chagrin, still less an hour of ennui. I waken in the morning with a secret pleasure at beholding the light. I gaze upon it with species of ravishment. All the day I am content. In the evening when I retire to rest, I fall into a sort of reverie which prevents the effort of thought, and I pass the night without once waking."
No man ever possessed a higher sense of the dignity of intellectual power, of its great and glorious mission, of its superiority to all the world calls great, and of the consequent jealousy and aversion with which it is sure to be regarded by the depositaries of political authority. He was neglected by them; he knew it, and expected it; it never gave him a moment's chagrin. "He was not insensible," says D'Alembert, "to glory; but he had no desire to win but by deserving it. Never did he attempt to enhance his reputation by the underhand devices and secret machinations by which second-rate men so often strive to sustain their literary fortunes. Worthy of every eloge and of every recompense, he asked nothing, and was noways surprised at being forgot. But he had courage enough in critical circumstances to solicit the protection at court of men of letters persecuted and unfortunate, and he obtained their restoration to favour." What a picture of the first man of his age, living in retirement, asking nothing, noways surprised at being forgot! He knew human nature well who acted thus after writing the Esprit des Loix. Power loves talent as long as it serves itself, when it is useful but manageable; it hates it when it becomes its instructor. Self-love is gratified by the subservience of genius in the first case; it is mortified by its superiority in the last.
But this honoured and happy life was drawing to a close. Shortly after the publication of the Esprit des Loix, the strength of Montesquieu rapidly declined; it seemed as if nature had been exhausted by that great production. "I had intended," said he in his journal, "to give more extent and depth to some parts of the Esprit des Loix, but I have become incapable of it. Reading has weakened my eyes; and it seems as if the little light that still remains to them, is but the dawn of the day when they will close for ever." His anticipations were not long of being carried into effect. In February 1755, he was seized with an inflammatory fever when on a visit at Paris. The utmost care and attention was bestowed on him by a number of friends especially the Duc de Nivernois and the Duchesse d'Aiguillon, two of his oldest friends; but he sunk under the malady at the end of thirteen days. The sweetness of his temper and serenity of his disposition never deserted him during this illness. From the first he was aware of its dangerous nature, but not a groan, a complaint, or a murmur ever escaped his lips. The Jesuits made strenuous endeavours to get possession of him during his last moments; but, though strongly impressed with religions principle, he resisted all their efforts to extract from him a declaration in favour of their peculiar tenets. "I have always respected religion," said he; "the morality of the Gospel is the noblest gift ever bestowed by God on man." The Jesuits strenuously urged him to put into their hands a corrected copy of the Lettres Persanes, in which he had expunged the passages having an irreligious tendency, but he refused to give it to them; but he gave the copy to the Duchesse d'Aiguillon, and Madame Dupre de St Maur, who were in the apartment, with instructions for its publication, saying, "I will sacrifice every thing to religion, but nothing to the Jesuits." Shortly after he received extreme unction from the hands of the cure of the parish. "Sir," said the priest, "you now feel how great is God." "Yes," he replied, "and how little man." These were his last words. He died on the 10th of February 1755.
Montesquieu left a great number of manuscripts and notes; but they were in so incomplete a state, that a few detached fragments only have been deemed fit for publication. He had written a journal of his travels, and in particular a set of "Notes on England," which would have been of much value had they been worked up to a mature form; but death interrupted him when he was only in the commencement of that great undertaking. He had begun a history of France under Louis XI., which is still extant, though very little progress was made in the work. The introduction, containing a sketch of the state of Europe at that period, is said to equal the most brilliant picture left by his immortal hand. It is written in the terse, epigrammatic style which is so characteristic of its author; and a few striking expressions preserved by those who have had access to the manuscript, will convey an idea of what the work would have been. "He saw only," said he, "in the commencement of his reign, the commencement of vengeance." Terminating a parallel of Louis XI. and Richelieu, which he drew much to the advantage of the latter, he observed, "He made the monarch play the second part in the monarchy, but the first in Europe—he lowered the king, but he raised the Kingdom." These and similar expressions are in Montesquieu's peculiar and nervous style, and they prove that the work would have contained, if completed, many brilliant passages; but they do not warrant the conclusion that the history itself would have been of much value. There is nothing more dangerous to an historian than great powers of epigrammatic expression; it almost inevitably leads to the sacrifice of truth and candour to point and antithesis. It is well for Tacitus that we have not the other side of his story recounted by a writer of equal power, but less party spirit and force of expression. In truth, it is probable the world has not lost much by Montesquieu's numerous unpublished manuscripts having been left in an incomplete state. There is no end to the writing of romances, or the annals of human events, but there is a very early limit to the production of original ideas, even to the greatest intellects; to Plato, Bacon, Newton, Smith, or Montesquieu, they are given only in a limited number. Hence their frequent repetition of the same thoughts, when their writings become voluminous. Montesquieu has done enough; his mission to man has been amply fulfilled.
In common with other men whose thoughts have made a great and wide-spread impression on mankind, the originality and value of Montesquieu's conceptions cannot be rightly appreciated by subsequent ages. That is the consequence of their very originality and importance. They have sunk so deep, and spread so far among mankind, that they have become common and almost trite. Like the expressions of Shakspeare, Gray, or Milton, they have become household words; on reading his works, we are astonished to find how vast a proportion of our habitual thoughts and expressions have sprung from that source. This, however, far from being a reproach to an author, is his highest commendation; it demonstrates at once the impression his thoughts have made on mankind. If we would discover the step a great man has made, we must recur to the authors in the same line who have preceded him, and then the change appears great indeed. The highest praise which can be bestowed on an author of original thought, is to say, that his ideas were unknown to the authors who preceded, trite with those who followed him.
The great characteristic of Montesquieu's thoughts, is the tracing the operation of general and lasting causes on human affairs. Before his time, the march of political or social events was ascribed by divines to the immediate and direct agency of the Deity guiding human actions, as a general moves an army; by men of the world, to chance, or the mastering influence of individual energy and talent. Bossuet may be considered as the most eminent of the former class. Voltaire brought the doctrines of the latter to their highest perfection. In opposition to both, Montesquieu strenuously asserted the operation of general laws, emanating doubtless originally from the institutions of the Deity, and the adaptation of the human mind to the circumstances in which man is placed in society, but acting at subsequent periods through the instrumentality of free agents, and of permanent and lasting operation in all ages of the world. Machiavel had frequently got sight of this sublime theory in his political writings; and in his Discorsi on Roman History, many of the most profound observations ever made by man on the working of the human mind under free institutions, and of the corresponding effects of similar principles of action in the republics of antiquity, and of those of Italy in modern times, are to be found. But it was Montesquieu who first carried out the doctrine to its full extent, and traced its operation through an infinity of historical events and political institutions. It is to the success with which he has done this, and the combined philosophical depth and grasp of details which his writings exhibit, that his colossal reputation has been owing. He had prodigious acquaintance with individual facts, united to the power of classifying them under their proper heads, and deducing from them their general and common principles. Like the steam-engine, he could, by turns, turn a thread round a spindle, and elevate a seventy-four in the air. He was the Kepler of science; like the immortal German, he had made eighty thousand observations in the social world; but, like him, he could deduce the few laws of national advance or decline from the regular irregularity of their motion.
The expression, Esprit des Loix, selected as the title of Montesquieu's great work, was not happily chosen. What he meant was not the Spirit of Laws, but the causes from which laws have arisen; the "Leges Legum," as Cicero said, to which they were owing, and from which they had sprung. He ascribed very little influence to human institutions in moulding the character or determining the felicity of man. On the contrary, he thought that these institutions were in general an effect, not a cause. He conceived that they arose, in every country, from something peculiar in the race from which the nature descended, or the climate, employments, or mode of earning subsistence to which it was chained in subsequent times by the physical circumstance in which it was placed. A certain type or character was imprinted on every people, either by the ineradicable influence of blood, which descends to the remotest generations, or the not less irremovable effect of external and physical circumstances which attaches to them through all ages. It was this blood and those circumstances which formed the national character, and through it, in the course of generations, moulded the national customs and institutions. Such customs and institutions were those which, having been framed by necessity, or the dictates of expedience, according to the circumstances in which each people were placed, were best adapted to their temper and situation. True wisdom consisted not in altering but following out the spirit of existing laws and customs; and, in his own words—"No nation ever yet rose to lasting greatness but from institutions in conformity to its spirit." No calamities were so great or irremediable as those which arose from disregarding the separate characters stamped on the different races and nations of men by the hand of the Almighty, or seeking to force upon one people or one race the institutions which have arisen among, and are adapted to, another.
Such are the fundamental principles which run through Montesquieu's writings, and to the elucidation of which he devoted the fifteen best years of his life. It will readily be perceived that they are entirely at variance with the whole doctrines of the French philosophers of the latter part of the eighteenth century, and which were practically enforced and carried into effect in their great Revolution. With them institutions were every thing; national character, descent, employment, or physical circumstances, nothing. All mankind would be the same if they only enjoyed the same liberty, laws, and institutions. The differences observable among them were entirely the result of the different governments forced upon men, in various stages of their progress, by the tyranny of kings, the force of conquest, or the machinations of priests. One frame of institutions, one code of laws, one set of government maxims, were adapted for all the world, and if practically acted upon would every where produce the same pure and upright character in the people. Vice and wickedness were the hateful effect of aristocratic pride, kingly lusts, or sacerdotal delusion; the human heart was naturally innocent, and bent only upon virtue; when the debasing influence of these corrupters of men was removed, it would universally resume its natural direction. Hence the maxim of Robespierre—"Le peuple est toujours bon, le magistrat toujours corruptible." Hence the readiness with which the constitution-mongers at Paris set themselves to prepare skeletons of government for all nations, and their universal identity with that originally cast during the fervour of the Revolution for the Great Nation. Hence also, it may be added, their experienced evils, short duration, and universal sweeping away, within a few years, before the accumulated suffering and aroused indignation of mankind.
It was owing to this fundamental variance between the doctrines of Montesquieu and those of the greater part of his contemporaries, and nearly the whole generation which succeeded him, that the comparative obscurity of his fame after his death, and the neglect which his writings for long experienced in France, are to be ascribed. When we contemplate the profound nature of his thoughts, the happy terseness and epigrammatic force of his expressions, and the great early fame which his writings acquired, nothing appears more extraordinary than the subsequent neglect into which, for above half a century after his death, he fell. Voltaire, Rousseau, Helvetius, Condorcet, Turgot, and the Encyclopedists, were then at the acme of their reputation; and their doctrines as to the natural innocence of man, and the universal moulding of human character by political institutions, not of political institutions by human character, were too much at variance with Montesquieu's deductions and conclusions to admit of their coexisting together. The experience of the Revolution, both abroad and at home, however, erelong spread a doubt among many thinking men, whether these doctrines were in reality as well founded as they were universally represented to be by the philosophers of the preceding age. Napoleon, who was thoroughly convinced of their erroneous nature, had a high admiration for Montesquieu, and frequently quoted his sentiments. But still the opposite set of opinions, diffused over the world with the tricolor flag, maintain their ground with the great majority even of well-informed men, at least in all republican states and constitutional monarchies. The policy of England in encouraging the revolutions of Belgium, Portugal, Spain, and the South American republics, has, for the last thirty years, been mainly founded on the principle, that institutions similar to those of Britain may with safety be transferred to other states, and that it is among them alone that we are to look for durable alliances or cordial support. The wretched fate of all the countries, strangers to the Anglo-Saxon blood, who have been cursed with these alien constitutions, whether in the Spanish or Italian Peninsulas, or the South American states—the jealous spirit and frequent undisguised hostility of America—the total failure of English institutions in Ireland, have had no effect with the great majority of men in this country, in rooting out these fatal errors. More than one generation, it is apparent, must descend to their graves before they are fairly expelled from general thought by experience and suffering. So obstinately do men cling to doctrines, which are flattering to human vanity, in opposition alike to the dictates of wisdom and the lessons of experience; and so true in all ages is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic church, that pride is the last sin which can be conquered in the human heart.
One remarkable instance will illustrate the manner in which Montesquieu supported the opposite principles, that institutions are moulded by the character and circumstances of nations, not the moulders of them. It is well known that primogeniture, though neither the law of succession in the Roman empire, nor originally of the nations of Northern Europe, in whom the allodial customs at first generally prevailed, came to be universally introduced with the feudal system, and the thorough establishment of a military aristocracy in every country of Europe. But, strange to say, there are some places where the rule is just the reverse, and the youngest son succeeds to the whole movable estate of the father, as is still the custom of some boroughs in England. Montesquieu ascribes, and apparently with reason, these opposite rules of succession to a similar feeling of expedience and necessity in the different circumstances in which the same race of Northmen were placed in different periods of their progress. The succession of the youngest son to the father's estate was the bequest of the patriarchal ages, when the youngest son generally remained last at home with his aged parent, his elder brothers having previously hived off with their herds and flocks. He therefore naturally succeeded to the movables of which he was alone in possession, jointly with his father, at the latter's death.
On the other hand, the descent of the whole landed estate to the eldest son, to the exclusion of his younger brothers and sisters, was naturally suggested by the settlement of a brave and martial race of conquerors in extensive districts gained by their valour, and which could be maintained only in the lands they had won by the sword. To divide the estate in such circumstances of peril, was to expose it to certain destruction; unity of operation in all its forms, one head, one castle, was as indispensable as one general to an army, or one sovereign to a kingdom. The old maxim, "divide et impera," was universally felt to be of fearful application. Empires, duchies, principalities, earldoms, baronies, private estates, could alone be preserved entire, amidst the general hostility with which all were surrounded, by descending to a single occupant. That occupant was naturally the eldest son, the first-born of the family, the first who arrived at man's estate, and the most capable on that account to render the necessary protection to its various members and dependants. Hence the general establishment of the law of primogeniture in all the countries of Europe. And for a similar reason, when the necessity which at first occasioned this general deviation from the feelings of equal affection to offspring was removed by the establishment of regular government, and general security, and the spread of commerce, with the necessity of capital to fit out sons and daughters, had been generally felt, this custom was silently abrogated at least in the commercial and middle classes, and a division of the succession, whether in land or money, into nearly equal parts, very generally took place.
It may readily be inferred from these observations, that the doctrines of Montesquieu, as to the moulding of institutions by external circumstances, and the character of nations, not of the character of nations by institutions and forms of government, is one of the very highest importance, not merely to speculative philosophers, but practical statesmen. In truth, it is the question of questions; the one thing needful to be understood both by the leaders of thought and the rulers of men. Unless correct and rational views are entertained on this subject, internal legislation will be perpetually at fault, external policy in a false direction. Reform will degenerate into revolution, conquest into desolation. The greatest calamities, both social and foreign, recorded in the history of the last half century, have arisen from a neglect of the maxims of Montesquieu, as to the indelible influence of race and external circumstances on human character, and the adoption in their stead of the doctrines of Voltaire and Rousseau, on the paramount influence of political institutions and general education on human felicity. Our policy, both social and foreign, is still mainly founded on the latter basis. If Montesquieu's principles as to no nation ever arriving at durable greatness but by institutions in harmony with its spirit and origin, had been generally adopted, the French Revolution, which originated in the Anglo and American mania, and the desire to transplant English institutions into the soil of France, would never have taken place. Had the same views prevailed in the British Cabinet, the iniquitous support of the revolt of the South American colonies in 1821 and 1822, and the insidious encouragement of the ruinous revolutions of Spain and Portugal during the Carlist war, would not have stained the honour of England, and ruined the prospects of the Peninsula. Had they pervaded the British community, the two fatal mistakes of policy in our time, the sudden emancipation of the negro slaves in the West Indies, and the unloosing all the bonds of government in Ireland, by the transplantation of Anglo-Saxon institutions, and the tempered freedom of England, into the midst of the Celtic blood and semi-barbarous passions of Ireland, would never have been committed. The great question at issue, in short, between Montesquieu and the Encyclopedists, as to whether man is moulded by institutions, or institutions by man, is the fundamental question, not only speculative, but practical, of the age; and without correct ideas on which, internal legislation and external policy are equally certain to be precipitated into error, and benevolence itself to become the parent of unbounded calamities.
And yet, if the matter be considered dispassionately, and without the disturbing influence of human pride and democratic ambition, which have obscured the visions of three generations of the ablest men in Europe, it seems extraordinary how any doubt could ever have been entertained on the subject. What are laws and institutions but the work of men, the concentration of the national will in times past, or at the present moment? If so, how could they have arisen but from the will of the people? It is only removing the difficulty a step further back to say, as has so often been done, that they were imposed, not by the will of the nation, but by the power of the tyrants who had oppressed, or the priests who had deluded it. For who were these tyrants or these priests? Not one in twenty thousand to the whole community. If they were empowered and enabled to impose arbitrary or debasing institutions, it must have been because the immense majority devolved to them the task; because, conscious of inability to govern themselves, or wanting the inclination to do so, they willingly resigned themselves to the guidance and direction of others. The Czar at St. Petersburg, the Sultaun at Constantinople, the Emperor at Pekin, reign just as much by the national will, and in a manner just as conformable to the national wish, as the Consuls of Rome, the Committee of Public Salvation at Paris, or the present constitutional Monarchs of France or England. The proof of this is, that when the people are dissatisfied with their administration, or displeased with the sovereign, they have no difficulty in dispatching him. The twisting of a sash round the neck in Russia, the bowstring in Constantinople or Ispahan, are very effectual monitors—fully as much so as a hostile Parliamentary majority in the house of Commons or Chamber of Deputies. In a word, government in every country being conducted by the few over the many by the hundreds over the hundred thousands, it is altogether impossible that the administration or institutions can be, for any length of time, at variance with the general will; because, if it was, it would not be submitted to. It may be, indeed, despotic and tyrannical in the highest degree, but that is no indication that it is contrary to the general will; it is only an indication that the general will is to be slaves—no unusual occurrence among men.
This fundamental principle of Montesquieu as to the perpetual and ineradicable influence of race, climate, and physical circumstances, in forming national character, and moulding national institutions, is unquestionably the true doctrine on the subject, though probably several generations must pass away, and an incalculable amount of suffering be endured by mankind, before it is generally admitted. Coupled with the cardinal point of the Christian faith, the inherent and universal corruption of the human heart, it forms the only foundation of a salutary or durable government. Decisive proof of this may be found in the fact, that the revolutionary party, all the world over, maintain directly the reverse; viz. that free political institutions, and general education, are all in all; and that, if established, the native virtue of the human heart affords a sufficient guarantee for general happiness. Montesquieu's principles lead to the conclusion that all reform and amelioration of existing institutions, to be either durable or beneficial, must be moulded on the old precedents, and deviate as little as may be, and that only from obvious necessity or expedience, from them. They utterly repudiate all transplantation of constitutions, or forcing upon one people the institutions or privileges of another. They point to experience as the great and only sure guide in social or political change, and for the obvious reason, that it alone can tell what has been found to be suitable to the circumstances, and adapted to the character and wants, of the nation among whom it has taken place. It is not that our ancestors were in the least wiser than we are; doubtless they did many foolish things, as we do. It is that time has consigned their foolish things, whether laws or measures, to the grave; and nothing has descended to our time but those institutions which have been found to be beneficial in their tendency. The portions of our present legislation which are suitable to the country, will in like manner descend to posterity, and the folly and absurdity will in a few generations be heard of no more.
It has been already remarked, that the Grandeur et Decadence des Romains is a more complete, and in some respects profound work, than the Esprit des Loix. A few quotations will justify, it is thought, this high eulogium—
"The circumstance of all others which contributed most to the ultimate greatness of Rome, was the long-continued wars in which its people were early involved. The Italian people had no machines for conducting sieges; and in addition to this, as the soldiers every where served without pay, it was impossible to retain them long before a fortified town; thus few of their wars were decisive. They fought for the pillage of a camp, or the booty of the fields, after which victors and vanquished retired alike into their respective cities. It was this circumstance which occasioned the long resistance of the Italian cities, and, at the same time, the obstinacy of the Romans in their endeavours to subjugate them; it was that which gave them victories which did not enervate, and conquests which left them their poverty. Had they rapidly conquered the neighbouring cities, they would have arrived at their decline before the days of Pyrrhus, of the Gauls, and of Hannibal; and, following the destiny of all the nations in the world, they would too quickly have gone through the transition from poverty to riches, and from riches to corruption."—C. 1.
What a subject for reflection is presented in this single paragraph! Rome, without any knowledge of siege equipage, thrown in the midst of the Italian states bristling with strongholds; and slowly learning, during centuries of indecisive, and often calamitous contests, that military art by which she was afterwards to subdue the world! It was in like manner, in the long, bloody, and nearly balanced contests of the Grecian republics with each other, that the discipline was learned which gave Alexander and the Macedonian phalanx the empire of Asia; and in the protracted struggles of the Anglo-Saxons, first with each other in the Heptarchy, and then with the Danes and Normans in defence of their coasts, that the foundation was laid of the energy and perseverance which have given the British race their present eminence and dominion among men.
"It has been often observed," says Montesquieu, "that our armies generally melt away under the fatigue of the soldiers, while those of the Romans never failed to preserve their health by it. The reason is, that their fatigues were continued; whereas our soldiers are destroyed by passing from a life of almost total inactivity to one of vehement exertion—the thing of all others most destructive to health. Not only were the Roman soldiers accustomed, during war, to incessant marching, and fortifying of the camps, but in peace they were daily trained to the same active habits. They were all habituated to the military step, that is, to go twenty miles, and sometimes twenty-four, in five hours. They did this bearing burdens of sixty pounds. They were daily trained to run and leap with their whole equipment on; in their ordinary drills the swords, javelins, and arrows were of a weight double of that used in war, and the exercises were continued."—C. 2.
There can be no doubt that this passage both explains much of the astonishing conquests of the Roman legions, and furnishes ample subject for reflection to a modern observer. The constant employment of these troops in the construction of great public works, as highways, bridges, harbours, or the like, was at once the best security for the health of the soldiers and the circumstance, of all others, which rendered their maintenance tolerable to the people. If we examine the inscriptions found in all parts of the world, where Roman remains are to be met with, we shall find that they were raised by the hands of the legions. It was their persevering and incessant toil which formed the magnificent highways, which, emanating from the Roman Forum, extended to the furthest extremity of the empire. The prodigious labour required for these great undertakings; the vast bridges and viaducts which required to be constructed; the mountains to be levelled; morasses and valleys to be filled up, habituated the legionary soldiers to such an amount of daily labour, that their engaging in the fatigues of a campaign was felt rather as a recreation than a burden. Hence, the dreadful sickness which in modern armies invariably attends the commencement of a campaign, and in general halves its numerical strength before a sword has been drawn, was for the most part unknown, and hence, too, the extraordinary achievements performed by small bodies of these iron veterans. How great the difference in modern times, where the naval and military forces are every where kept up during peace in almost total idleness; and the consequence is, that they are at once an eyesore to the citizens whose substance they consume in what is deemed useless ostentation, and are deprived of half their numerical strength, and more than half their efficiency, on first engaging in the fatigues of real warfare.
No province hails the arrival of a modern division of troops, no seaport longs for the presence of a man-of-war, as the signal for the commencement of great and beneficent pacific undertakings, as was the case in the Roman empire. Of what incalculable use might the British navy be, if even a part of it was employed in transporting the hundred thousand colonists who annually seek in our distant possessions, or in the American States, that profitable market for their industry, which they cannot find amidst our crowded manufactories at home? And this is an instance of the manner in which the reflections of Montesquieu, though made in reference only to the Roman empire, are in truth applicable to all ages and countries; as the parables in the Gospels, though delivered only to the fishermen of Judea, contain the rules of conduct for the human race to the end of the world.
Regarding the comparative causes of corruption in a military and commercial state, Montesquieu makes the following observation. Let him that feels it not applicable to this nation and ourselves, throw the first stone:—
"Carthage having become richer than Rome, was also more corrupted. For this reason, while at Rome public employments were chiefly awarded to ability and virtue, and conferred no advantage, but a greater share of fatigues to be endured, and dangers incurred, every thing which the public had to bestow was sold at Carthage, and every service rendered by individuals was paid by the state. The tyranny of a prince does not bring a despotic state nearer its ruin than indifference to the public good does a republic. The advantage of a free state consists in this, that its revenues are in general better administered; and even where this is not the case, it has at first the advantage of not being governed by court favourites. But, on the other hand, the corrupting power in a democracy, when once brought into action, erelong becomes more dissolving than in a despotism; for instead of paying court merely to the friends and relations of the prince, it becomes necessary to provide for the friends and relations of the multitude who have a share in political power. All is then lost. The laws are eluded in a more dangerous manner than by the violence of a despot; for they are so by the interests of the changing many, not the passions of one, whose position at the head of the state being fixed and unchangeable, gives him a lasting interest in its preservation."—C. 4.
How many reflections does this passage, written in France above a century ago, awaken in the breast of a British citizen at this time!—"Si monumentum quaeris, circumspice!" So true it is, that real political truth belongs to no age or locality—"non alia Romae, alia Athenis;" it is of eternal application, and is destined to receive confirmation from the experience of men, and the lessons of history, to the end of the world.
"Powers," says Montesquieu, "which owe their greatness to commerce, may exist long in mediocrity, but their grandeur can never be of long duration. The reason is, that they rise to greatness by little and little, without any one being aware of their growth, as they have done nothing which attracts attention, awakens alarm, or indicates their power. But when it has risen to that point, that no one can avoid seeing it, all the surrounding nations secretly endeavour to deprive the great commercial state of advantages which they all envy, and which have taken them, as it were, by surprise."—C. 4.
Few persons who contemplate the present state of the British empire, its astonishing rise to greatness in the space of less than a century—the general, it may be said universal jealousy with which it is regarded, and the perilous pinnacle on which it now stands, will deny the justice of this observation. May the remark, as to the short duration of power founded on such a basis, not receive an additional, and even more memorable confirmation in ourselves! But one thing is perfectly clear. This remark indicates the impossibility of conciliating the adjoining and poorer states while our commercial superiority continues, and thus strikes at the very foundation of the reciprocity system, on which our whole commercial policy for the last quarter of a century has been founded. That system proceeds on the principle, that by opening to the adjoining states a fair communication of advantages, it is in the power of a great commercial state, not only to conciliate their good-will, but obtain with them a great and mutually beneficial mercantile intercourse. Montesquieu's observation points to the undying and universal jealousy by its neighbours with which such a power is ever surrounded, and the futility of all attempts, while its superiority exists, to avert their mercantile hostility, or preserve with them any considerable commercial traffic. Which is the better option, let the hedge of hostile tariffs with which, after boundless concessions to purchase commercial good-will, we are surrounded in every direction, give the answer.
On the comparative value of infantry and cavalry in war, Montesquieu, though no professional soldier, makes the following observation, on which those who are so, would do well to ponder:—
"The Carthaginian cavalry was superior to that of the Romans, for two reasons. One was, that the Numidian and Spanish horses were better than those of Italy; the other, that the Roman cavalry was ill armed; for Polybius tells us, that it was not till they had carried on war in Greece, that they changed their manner of equipping that limb of military strength. In the first Punic war, Regulus was beat as soon as the Carthaginians made choice of plains for combat, where their cavalry could act to advantage; in the second, Hannibal owed to the Numidian horse his principal victories. It was not till whole corps of them began to go over to the Romans in Italy, that the latter began to breathe. Scipio having conquered Spain, and contracted an alliance with Masinissa, deprived the Carthaginians of that advantage. He did more, he gained it for himself. It was the Numidian cavalry which gained the battle of Zama, and terminated the war in favour of the Romans."—C. 4.
It is impossible to read the admirable account of Hannibal's campaign in the last volume of Arnold's History of Rome, without perceiving that this observation, as to the decisive effect of the Numidian cavalry upon the fortunes of the war, in first giving victory to the Carthaginians when they were entirely on their side, and gradually, and at length decisively restoring it to that of the Romans, when they were won over to their eagles, is entirely well-founded. Napoleon was of the same opinion, and has repeatedly expressed it in various parts of his works. "Give me," said that great man, "the French infantry and the Mameluke horse, and I will conquer the world." It was his constant affirmation that cavalry, equally brave and skillfully led, should always, other things being equal, overthrow infantry; and that the contrary opinion which generally prevails, was owing to horse, considered as the sole strength of war during the feudal ages, having been unduly decried since the invention of fire-arms. All the world knows the immense use he made of his heavy cavalry in all his campaigns; how often, in circumstances the most critical, it chained victory to his standards; how nearly it re-established his affairs, and replaced the imperial crown upon his head on the field of Waterloo. How striking a proof of human sagacity that the philosophic sage, in the early part of the seventeenth century, should have divined a truth which the researches of the historian and the exploits of the conqueror were to confirm in the middle of the eighteenth!
"Those who are governed by a king," says Montesquieu, "are less tormented by envy and jealousy, than those who live under an hereditary aristocracy. The prince is so far distant from his subjects, that he is rarely seen by them; he is so far above them that nothing in his situation can mortify his self-love. But the nobles who govern in an aristocracy are under the eyes of all, and they are not so elevated, but that odious comparisons are made without ceasing. Thus in all ages we have seen the people detest their senators, though they frequently love their king. Republics, where birth confers no title to power, are in that respect in a better situation than aristocracies; for the people feel less jealousy of an authority which they give to whom they please, and take from whom they incline."—C. 8.
How many confirmations of this remark have the history of France during the Revolution, and of England during the Reform mania afforded! And this affords an illustration of a truth, which, the more history is studied, will be rendered more apparent, viz., that the principles which lie at the bottom of the greatest changes in the political world, and produce the most devastating evils to society, are in reality the same which we see acting every day around us in common life. In the jealousies of the tea-table, the animosities of the market-place, the envy of trade, we may see the passions working, which, infused into a whole people, tear society in pieces. It is only supposing the same malevolent or selfish desires working in every breast, directed against one object, and rendered irresistible from that very multiplication, and we have the envy of the coterie transformed into the fury of revolution. Whoever will closely observe the working of that mainspring of human actions—selfishness—on the society, whether in a village, a city, a country, or a metropolis in which he resides, will have no difficulty in discerning the real but secret, and therefore unobserved spring of the greatest changes that ever occur in the political and social world. Voltaire said the factions at Geneva were storms in a teacup; if any man will study the motion of water in a teacup, he will be at no loss to understand the hurricanes of the Atlantic.
On the division of the Roman people into centuries and tribes, which was the cardinal point of their constitution, Montesquieu makes the following important observation:—
"Servius Tullius was the author of the famous division of the people into centuries, which Livy and Dionysius Halicarnassus have so well described. He distributed an hundred and ninety-three centuries into six classes, and put the whole lower people into the last century, which singly formed the sixth class. It is easy to see that that arrangement virtually excluded the lower classes from the suffrage, not de jure, but de facto. Subsequently it was agreed, that except in some particular cases they should, in voting, follow the division into tribes. There were thirty-five of these tribes who gave each their vote: four were from the city, thirty-one from the country. The principal citizens, being all rural proprietors, were naturally classed in the country tribes: the lower people were all massed together in the four urban ones. This circumstance was regarded, and with reason, as the salvation of the republic. Appius Claudius had distributed the lower people among the whole tribes, but Fabius classed then again in the four urban ones, and thence acquired the surname of 'Maximus.' The Censors very five years took a survey of the citizens, and distributed the people in the tribes to which they legally belonged; so that the ambitious could not render themselves masters of their suffrages, nor the people abuse their own power."—C. 8.
The Romans had good reason for styling Fabius "Maximus," who discovered this way of preventing the lower classes, by their number, from acquiring an overwhelming superiority in the government of the state. He achieved as great a good for his country by so doing, as by baffling Hannibal after the battle of Cannae. But for that circumstance the Roman constitution would have become, after the change of Appius Claudius, a mere prototype of the American democracy; a government constantly swayed by a numerical majority of the lowest class of citizens. There can be no doubt that the matter at issue, in this question, is the most material which can engage the attention of political philosophers and statesmen in a free country, and that, on its determination, its ultimate fate is entirely dependant. So great is the number of the working-classes in every old and opulent community, compared to those who possess the advantages of property and superior education, that nothing is more certain than that, if the elective franchise be widely diffused, and no mode of classifying the votes, as at Rome, has been discovered, the sway of a numerical majority of incompetent electors will, erelong, become irresistible. Certain ruin then awaits the state. It was that which ruined Athens in ancient, which has destroyed Poland in modern times, and is fast undermining the foundations of the social union in America. The Roman method of giving every citizen a vote, but classifying them in such a way that the paramount influence of a mere numerical majority was prevented, and the practical direction of affairs was thrown into the hands of the better class of citizens, though not free from objection, is the most perfect method of combining universal suffrage in the citizens, with the real direction of affairs by those fitted to conduct them, which the wit of man has ever divined.
In truth, it deserves consideration by those who think on human affairs, and the probable form of government which may be expected to prevail in future among men, whether universal suffrage is the real evil to be dreaded; and whether equality of suffrage is not the real poison which destroys society. Abstractly considered, there is much justice in the plea so constantly advanced by the working-classes, that being members of the community, and contributing to its support or opulence by their labour, they are entitled to a certain voice in the direction of its affairs. If no one has a voice at all but the sovereign, as in a despotism, or no one except a few magnates, as in an aristocracy, the humbler classes cannot complain at least of inconsistency, whatever they may of injustice, if they are excluded. But if a vast body of electors, as in Great Britain, are admitted, and still the great bulk of the working-classes are excluded, it is not easy to see on what principle the exclusion of some can be rendered consistent with the admission of others. It deserves consideration whether the true principle would not be to give every able-bodied working man, major and not receiving parochial relief, a vote, but a vote of much less weight than his superiors in intelligence, property, or station. This might be done either as the Romans did, by making the votes be taken by centuries, and classing all the votes of the poorer electors in a limited number of centuries, or giving each man a personal vote, and giving the holders of property, in addition, more votes for their property; as one for every pound of direct taxes paid. Louis XVI. proposed a plan of this sort to Turgot before the Revolution; but that minister, deeply embued with the principles of democracy, rejected it; and Neckar, following out his views, practically established universal suffrage. Possibly the plan, if adopted and honestly carried into execution, might have prevented the whole calamities of the Revolution.
Of the dangers of such a multiplication of votes, without any restriction, Roman history affords a memorable example.
"Rome," says Montesquieu, "had conquered the world with the aid of the Italian cities, and, in return, she had communicated to them a great variety of privileges. At first they cared little for these advantages; but when the rights of Roman citizenship was that of universal empire, when no one was any thing in the world if he was not a Roman citizen, and with that little he was every thing, the Italian people resolved to perish or acquire that envied distinction. Being unable to attain this object by prayers and remonstrances, they had recourse to arms: the whole allies on the Eastern coast of the Peninsula revolted, those on the Western side were about to follow their example. Rome, obliged to combat as it were the hands by which it had conquered the world, was lost; it was about to be reduced to its walls, when it extricated itself from the difficulty by extending the privilege to the allies who had remained faithful, and shortly after to the whole.
"From that moment Rome ceased to be a city of which the people had the same spirit, the same interest, the same love of freedom, the same reverence for the Senate. The people of Italy having become citizens, every town brought thither its dispositions, its separate interests, its dependence on some neighbouring protector. The city, torn with divisions, formed no longer a whole; and as the vast majority of the citizens were so only by a species of fiction, had neither the same magistrates, the same walls, the same temples, the same gods, nor the same places of sepulture, Rome was no longer seen with the same eyes; the undivided love of country was gone; Rome was no more. The inhabitants of whole provinces and cities were brought up to the capital to give their suffrages, or compel others to give them; the popular assemblies degenerated into vast conspiracies, a troop or seditious band usurped the sacred name of Comitia; the authority of the people, their laws, even themselves, became a mere chimera; and the anarchy rose to such a point that it became impossible to tell whether the people had made an ordinance, or had not. Writers are never tired of descanting on the divisions which ruined Rome; but they have not seen that those divisions always existed, and ever must exist in a free community. It was solely the greatness of the republic which was the cause of the evil, by changing popular tumults into civil wars. Faction was unavoidable in Rome; its warriors, so fierce, so proud, so terrible abroad, would not be moderate at home. To expect in a free state men at once bold in war, and timid in peace, is to look for an impossibility. It may be assumed as a fixed principle, that wherever you see every one tranquil in a state which bears the name of a republic, liberty there has been long since extinct."—C. 9.
The representative system has saved Great Britain and America from these terrible popular comitia, in which, as Montesquieu has truly said, the mobs of the people became the convulsions of an empire; and which tore in pieces Poland in modern, as it had done Rome in ancient times. But does not the real evil exist, despite this liberation from the actual tumult, in the representative government of a great empire, as much as in the stormy comitia of an overgrown republic? It is not the mere strife in the streets, and shedding of blood in civil warfare, bad as it is, and truly as the "bellum plusquam civile" exceeds all others in horror, which is the only evil. The separation of interests, the disregard of common objects in the struggle for individual elevation, the tyranny of one class by another class, is the thing which really dissolves the national bonds in every wide-spread and free community. We see this source of discord operating with as much force in the divided representation of great popular states, as in the bloody contests of the Roman forum or the plain of Volo in Poland. The nullification of South Carolina, the obnoxious tariff of America, the fierce demands for the repeal of the union in Ireland, the sacrifice of agricultural and producing, to commercial and monied interests in Great Britain, prove that these evils are in full operation among ourselves, as well as our descendants on the other side of the Atlantic. There is a confusion of tongues, and separation of mankind from the undue amalgamation of interests, as well as individuals. Providence has a sure way to punish the selfishness and presumption of men who seek to build up a Babel of human construction; and that is to leave them to the consequences of their own extravagance.
The style of Montesquieu may be judged from the extracts, few and imperfect as they are, given in the preceding pages. It is not vehement, eloquent, or forcible; but condensed, nervous, and epigrammatic. No writer has furnished to succeeding times so many brilliant passages to quote; but there are many who can be read en suite with more satisfaction. This is not unfrequently the case with writers on philosophical subjects of the highest class of intellect; and it arises from the variety and originality of their ideas. The mind of the reader is fatigued by following out the multitude of thoughts which their works engender. At the close of every paragraph almost, you involuntarily close the book, to reflect on the subjects of meditation which it has presented. The same peculiarity may be remarked in the annals of Tacitus, the essays of Bacon, the poetry of Milton, the Inferno of Dante, the Discorsi of Machiavel. In the habit of expansion which has arisen in more recent times from the multiplication of books, the profits made by writing, and the necessity of satisfying the craving of a voracious public for something new, is to be found the cause of the remarkable difference in the modes of composition which has since become prevalent. When men write for the monthly or quarterly press, there is no time to be condensed or profound. What has been gained, however, in animation and fervour, has too often been lost in thought; and it may be doubted whether, among the many writers of the present day, whether in Great Britain or the Continent, there is one whose works, a century hence, will be deemed to contain as much of original and valuable ideas as even the preceding sketch, imperfect as it is, has presented in Montesquieu.
A REMINISCENCE OF BOYHOOD.
"Life is a dream, whose seeming truth Is moralized in age and youth; When all the comforts man can share As wandering as his fancies are: Till in a mist of dark decay The dreamer vanish quite away."
'Twas a blithe morning in the aureate month Of July, when, in pride of summer power, The sun enliven'd nature: dew-besprent, A wilderness of flowers their scent exhaled Into the soft, warm zephyr; early a-foot, On public roads, and by each hedge-way path, From the far North, and from Hybernia's strand, With vestures many-hued, and ceaseless chat, The reapers to the coming harvest plied— Father and mother, stripling and young child, On back or shoulder borne. I trode again A scene of youth, bright in its natural lines Even to a stranger's eyes when first time seen, But sanctified to mine by many a fond And faithful recognition. O'er the Esk, Swoln by nocturnal showers, the hawthorn hung Its garland of green berries, and the bramble Trail'd 'mid the camomile its ripening fruit. Most lovely was the verdure of the hills— A rich luxuriant green, o'er which the sky Of blue, translucent, clear without a cloud, Outspread its arching amplitude serene. With many a gush of music, from each brake Sang forth the choral linnets; and the lark, Ascending from the clover field, by fits Soar'd as it sang, and dwindled from the sight. 'Mid the tall meadow grass the ox reclined, Or bent his knee, or from beneath the shade Of the broad beech, with ruminant mouth, gazed forth. Rustling with wealth, a tissue of fair fields, Outstretch'd to left and right in luxury; And the fir forests on the upland slopes Contrasted darkly with the golden grain.