Part 6 out of 6
_Receive, O dreadful Power, from feeble age.
This last pure offering to thy sateless rage;_
Book III. Line 181.
Garcilasso declares that the different tribes of those mountain savages
worshipped the various objects of terror that annoyed the particular parts
of the country where they dwelt; such as storms, volcanos, rivers, lakes,
and several beasts and birds of prey. All of them believed that their
forefathers were descended from the gods which they worshipped.
_Held to the sun the image from his breast
Whose glowing concave all the god exprest;_
Book III. Line 273.
The historian of the Incas relates that, by the laws of the empire, none
but sacred fire could be used in sacrifices; and that there were three
modes in which it might be procured. First, the most sacred fire was that
which was drawn immediately from the sun himself by means of a concave
mirror, which was usually made of gold or silver highly polished. Second,
in case of cloudy weather or other accident, the fire might be taken from
the temple, where it was preserved by the holy virgins; whose functions
and discipline resembled those of the vestals of Rome. Third, when the
sacrifice was to be made in the provinces at an inconvenient distance from
the temple, and when the weather was such as to prevent drawing the fire
immediately from the sun, it was permitted to procure it by the friction of
two pieces of dry wood.
The two latter modes were resorted to only in cases of necessity. Not to
be able to obtain fire by means of the mirror was a bad omen, a sign of
displeasure in the god; it cast a gloom over the whole ceremony and threw
the people into lamentations, fearing their offering would not be well
This method of procuring fire directly from the sun, to burn a sacrifice,
must have appeared so miraculous to the savages who could not understand
it, that it doubtless had a powerful effect in converting them to the solar
religion and to the Incan government.
_Dim Paraguay extends the aching sight,
Xaraya glimmers like the moon of night,_
Book III. Line 321.
Xaraya is a lake in the country of Paraguay, and is the principal source of
the river Paraguay. This river is the largest branch of the Plata.
_The Condor frowning from a southern plain.
Borne on a standard, leads a numerous train:_
Book III. Line 421.
The Condor is supposed to be the largest bird of prey hitherto known. His
wings, from one extreme to the other, are said to measure fifteen feet; he
is able to carry a sheep in his talons, and he sometimes attacks men. He
inhabits the high mountains of Peru, and is supposed by some authors to be
peculiar to the American continent. Buffon believes him to be of the same
species with the laemmer-geyer (lamb-vulture) of the Alps. The similarity
of their habitations favors this conjecture; but the truth is, the Condor
of Peru has not been well examined, and his history is imperfectly known.
_So shall the Power in vengeance view the place,
In crimson clothe his terror-beaming face,_
Book III. Line 493.
It is natural for the worshippers of the sun to consider any change in the
atmosphere as indicative of the different passions of their deity. With the
Peruvians a sanguine appearance in the sun denoted his anger.
_Thro all the shrines, where erst on new-moon days
Swell'd the full quires of consecrated praise,_
Book III. Line 687.
New-moon days were days of high festival with the Incas, according to
Garcilasso. Eclipses of the sun must therefore have happened on solemn
days, and have interrupted the service of the temple.
_Las Casas. Valverde. Gasca._
Book IV. Line 17-27.
_Bartholomew de las Casas_ was a Dominican priest of a most amiable
and heroic character. He first went to Hispaniola with Columbus in his
second voyage, where he manifested an ardent but honest zeal, first in
attempting to instruct the natives in the principles of the catholic
faith, and afterwards in defending them against the insufferable cruelties
exercised by the Spanish tyrants who succeeded Columbus in the discoveries
and settlements in South America. He early declared himself _Protector
of the Indians;_ a title which seems to have been acknowledged by the
Spanish government. He devoted himself ever after to the most indefatigable
labors in the service of that unhappy people. He made several voyages to
Spain, to solicit, first from Ferdinand, then from cardinal Ximenes, and
finalty from Charles V, some effectual restrictions against the horrid
career of depopulation which every where attended the Spanish arms. He
followed these monsters of cruelty into all the conquered countries; where,
by the power of his eloquence and that purity of morals which commands
respect even from the worst of men, he doubtless saved the lives of many
thousands of innocent people. His life was a continued struggle agaiust
that deplorable system of tyranny, of which he gives a description in
a treatise addressed to Philip prince of Spain, entitled _Brevissima
Relacion de la Destruycion de las Yndias_.
It is said by the Spanish writers that the inhabitants of Hispaniola, when
first discovered by the Spaniards, amounted to more than one million. This
incredible population was reduced, in fifteen years, to sixty thousand
_Vincent Valverde_ was a fanatical priest who accompanied Pizarro in
his destructive expedition to Peru. If we were to search the history of
mankind, we should not find another such example of the united efforts of
ecclesiastical hypocrisy and military ferocity, of unresisted murder and
insatiable plunder, as we meet with in the account of this expedition.
Father Valverde, in a formal manner, gave the sanction of the church to the
treacherous murder of Atabalipa and his relations; which was immediately
followed by the destruction and almost entire depopulation of a flourishing
_Pedro de la Gasca_ was one of the few men whose virtues form a
singular contrast with the vices which disgraced the age in which he lived
and the country in which he acquired his glory. He was sent over to Peru by
Charles V without any military force, to quell the rebellion of the younger
Pizarro and to prevent a second depopulation, by a civil war, of that
country which had just been drenched in the blood of its original
inhabitants. He effected this great purpose by the weight only of his
personal authority and the veneration inspired by his virtues. As soon
as he had suppressed the rebellion and established the government of the
colony he hastened to resign his authority into the hands of his master.
And tho his victories had been obtained in the richest country on earth he
returned to Spain as poor as Cincinnatus; having resisted every temptation
to plunder, and refused to receive any emolument for his services.
_First of his friends, see Frederic's princely form
Ward from the sage divine the gathering storm;_
Book IV. Line 157.
Frederic of Saxony, surnamed the Wise, was the first sovereign prince
who favored the doctrines of Luther. He became at once his pupil and his
patron, defended him from the persecutions of the pope, and gave him an
establishment as professor in the university of Wittemburgh.
_By monarchs courted and by men beloved._
Book IV. Line 165.
Francis I, out of respect to the great learning and moderation of
Melancthon, and disregarding the pretended danger of discussing the dogmas
of the church, invited him to come to France and establish himself at
Paris; but the intrigues of the cardinal de Tournon frustrated the king's
If every leader of religious sects had possessed the amiable qualities of
Melancthon, and every monarch who wished to oppose the introduction of new
opinions had partaken of the wisdom of Francis, the blood of many hundreds
of millions of the human species, which has flowed at the shrine of
fanaticism, would have been spared. This circumstance alone would have
made of human society by this time a state totally different from what we
actually experience; and its influence on the progress of improvement in
national happiness and general civilization must have been beyond our
_While kings and ministers obstruct the plan,
Unfaithful guardians of the weal of man._
Book IV. Line 529.
The British colonies in all their early struggles for existence complained,
and with reason, of the uniform indifference and discouragement which they
experienced from the government of the mother country. But it was probably
to that very indifference that they owed the remarkable spirit of liberty
and self-dependence which created their prosperity, by inducing them
uniformly to adopt republican institutions. These circumstances prepared
the way for that mutual confidence and federal union which have finally
formed them into a flourishing nation.
Ministers who feel their power over a distant colony to be uncontrolled
are so naturally inclined to govern too much, that it may be a fortunate
circumstance for the colony to be neglected altogether. This neglect was
indeed fatal to the first Virginia settlers sent out by Sir Walter Raleigh;
and the companies who afterwards succeeded in their establishments at
Jamestown in Virginia and at Plymouth in Massachusetts were very near
sharing the fate of their predecessors. But after these settlements had
acquired so much consistence as to assure their own continuance, it may
be assumed as an historical fact, that the want of encouragement from
government was rather beneficial than detrimental to the British colonies
These establishments were in the nature of private adventures, undertaken
by a few individuals at their own expense, rather than organised colonies
sent abroad for a public purpose. They were companies incorporated for
plantation and trade. All they asked of the mother country (after obtaining
acts of incorporation enabling them to acquire property and exercise other
civil functions, such as incorporated companies at home could exercise) was
to give them charters of political franchise, ascertaining the extent and
limits of their rights and duties as subjects of the British crown forming
nations in parts of the earth that had been found in an uncultivated state,
and far removed from the mother country.
As they could not in this situation be represented in the parliament of
England, these charters stipulated their right of having parliaments
or legislative assemblies of their own, with executive and judiciary
institutions established within their territories.
The acknowledgment of these rights placed them on a different footing from
any other modern colonies; and the restricting clause, by which their trade
was confined to the mother country, rendered their situation unlike that of
the colonies of ancient Greece. Indeed the British system of colonization
in America differed essentially from every other, whether ancient or
modern; if that may properly be called a system, which was rather the
result of early indifference to the cries of needy adventurers, and
subsequent attempts to seize upon their earnings when they became objects
of rapacity. This singular train of difficulties must be considered as one
of the causes of our ancient prosperity and present freedom.
_Where Freedom's sons their high-born lineage trace,
And homebred bravery still exalts the race:_
Book V. Line 345.
The author of this poem will not be suspected of laying any stress on the
mere circumstance of lineage or birth, as relating either to families or
nations. The phrase however in the text is not without its meaning. Among
the colonies derived from the several nations of Europe in modern times,
those from the English have flourished far better than the others, under a
parity of circumstances, such as climate, soil and productions. The reason
of this undeniable fact deserves to be explained.
Colonies naturally carry with them the civil, political and religious
institutions of their mother countries. These institutions in England are
much more favorable to liberty and the development of industry than in any
other part of Europe which has sent colonies abroad. But this is not all:
when men for several generations have been bred up in the habit of feeling
and exercising such a portion of liberty as the English nation has enjoyed,
their minds are prepared to open and expand themselves as occasion may
offer. They are able to embrace new circumstances, to perceive the
improvements that may be drawn from them, and not only make a temperate use
of that portion of self-control to which they are accustomed, but devise
the means of extending it to other objects of their political relations,
till they become familiar with all the interests of men in society.
The habitual use of the liberty of the press, of trial by jury in open
court, of the accountability of public agents and of some voice in the
election of legislators, must create, in a man or a nation, a character
quite different from what it could be under the habitual disuse of these
advantages. And when these habits are transplanted with a young colony to
a distant region of the earth, enjoying a good soil and climate, with an
unlimited and unoccupied country, the difference will necessarily be more
A most striking illustration of this principle is exhibited in the colonies
of North America. This coast, from the St. Laurence to the Missisippi,
was colonized by the French and English, (I make no account of the Dutch
establishment on the Hudson nor of the Swedish on the Delaware; they being
of little importance, and early absorbed in the English settlements.) If we
look back only one hundred years from the present time, we find the French
and English dominions here about equally important in point of extent and
population. The French Canada, Acadia, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, Florida
and Louisiana were then as far advanced in improvement as the English
settlements which they flanked on each side. And the French had greatly
the advantage in point of soil, interior navigation and capability of
extension. They commanded and possessed the two great rivers which almost
met together on the English frontier. And the space between the waters of
those rivers on the west was planted with French military posts, so as to
complete the investment.
New Orleans was begun before Philadelphia, and was much better situated to
become a great commercial capital. Quebec and Montreal were older, and had
the advantage of most of our other cities. Add to this that the French
nation at home was about twice as populous as the English nation at home;
and as that part of the increase of colonial population which comes
from emigration must naturally be derived from their respective mother
countries, it might have been expected that the comparative rapidity of
increase would have been in favor of the French at least two to one.
But the French colonists had not been habituated to the use of liberty
before their emigration; and they were not prepared nor permitted to enjoy
it in any degree afterwards. Their laws were made for them in their mother
country, by men who could not know their wants and who fell no interest in
their prosperity; and then they were administered by a set of agents as
ignorant as their masters; men who, from the nature of their employment and
accountability, must in general be oppressive and rapacious.
The result has solved a great problem in political combination. One of
these clusters of colonies has grown to a powerful empire, giving examples
to the universe in most of the great objects which constitute the dignity
of nations. The other, after having been a constant expense to the mother
country, and serving for barter and exchange in the capricious vicissitudes
of European despotism, presents altogether at this day a mass of population
and wealth scarcely equal to one of our provinces.
This note is written at the moment when Louisiana, one of the most
extensive but least peopled of the French colonies, is ceded to the United
States. The world will see how far the above theory will now be confirmed
by the rapid increase of population and improvement in that interesting
portion of our continent.
_Beneath him lay the sceptre kings had borne,
And the tame thunder from the tempest torn._
Book V. Line 429.
Eripuit coelo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis.
This epigraph, written by Turgot on the bust of Franklin, seems to have
been imitated from a line in Manilius; where noticing the progress of
science in ascribing things to their natural and proper causes instead of
supernatural ones, he says,
Eriput Jovi fulmen, viresque tonandi,
Et sonitum ventis concessit, nubibus ignem.
_And Knox from his full park to battle brings
His brazen tubes, the last resort of kings._
Book V. Line 665.
Ultima ratio regum; a device of Louis XIV engraved on his ordnance, and
afterwards adopted by other powers. When we consider men as reasonable
beings and endowed with the qualities requisite for living together in
society, this device looks like a satire upon the species; but in reality
it only proves the imperfect state to which their own principles of society
have yet advanced them in the long and perhaps interminable progress of
which they are susceptible. This _ultima ratio_ being already taken
out of the hands of individuals and confided only to the chiefs of nations
is as clear a proof of a great progress already made, as its remaining in
the hands of those chiefs is a proof that we still remain far short of that
degree of wisdom and experience which will enable all the nations to live
at peace one with another.
There certainly was a time when the same device might have been written
on the hatchet or club or fist of every man; and the best weapon of
destruction that he could wield against his neighbour might have been
called _ultima ratio virarum_, meaning that human reason could go no
farther. But the wisdom we have drawn from experience has taught us to
restrain the use of mortal weapons, making it unlawful and showing it to
be unreasonable to use them in private disputes. The principles of social
intercourse and the advantages of peace are so far understood as to enable
men to form great societies, and to submit their personal misunderstandings
to common judges; thus removing the ultima ratio from their own private
hands to the hands of their government.
Hitherto there has usually been a government to every nation; but the
nations are increasing in size and diminishing in number; so that the hands
which now hold the _ultima ratio_ by delegation are few, compared
with what they have been. I mean this observation to apply only to those
extensions of nationality which have been formed on the true principles
of society and acquiesced in from a sense of their utility. I mean not
to apply it to those unnatural and unwieldy stretches of power, whose
overthrow is often and erroneously cited as an argument against the
progress of civilization; such as the conquests of Alexander, the Roman
generals, Omar, Gengis Khan and others of that brilliant description. These
are but meteors of compulsive force, which pass away and discourage, rather
than promote, the spirit of national extension of which I speak.
This spirit operates constantly and kindly; nor is its progress so slow
but that it is easily perceived. Even within the short memorials of modern
history we find a heptarchy in England. Ossian informs us that in his time
there was a great number of warlike states in Ireland and as many more in
Scotland. Without going back to the writings of Julius Cesar to discover
the comparative condition of France, we may almost remember when she
counted within her limits six or seven different governments, generally at
war among themselves and inviting foreign enemies to come and help them
destroy each other. Every province in Spain is still called a kingdom;
and it is not long since they were really so in fact, with the _ultima
ratio_ in the hands of every king.
The publicist who in any of those modern heroic ages could have imagined
that all the hundred nations who inhabited the western borders of Europe,
from the Orknies to Gibraltar, might one day become so far united in
manners and interests as to form but three great nations, would certainly
have passed for a madman. Had he been a minister of Phararnond or of Fingal
he could no more have kept his place than Turgot could keep his after
pointing out the means of promoting industry and preventing wars. He would
have been told that the inhabitants of each side of the Humber were natural
enemies one to the other; that if their chiefs were even disposed to live
in peace they could not do it; their subjects would demand war and could
not live without it. The same would have been said of the Seine, the Loire
and every other dividing line between their petty communities. It would
have been insisted on that such rivers were the natural boundaries of
states and never could be otherwise.
But now since the people of those districts find themselves no longer
on the frontiers of little warlike states, but in the centre of great
industrious nations, they have lost their relish for war, and consider it
as a terrible calamity; they cherish the minister who gives them peace, and
abhor the one who drives them into unnecessary wars. Their local disputes,
which used to be settled by the sword, are now referred to the tribunals of
the country. They have substituted a moral to a physical force. They
have changed the habits of plunder for those of industry; and they find
themselves richer and happier for the change.
Who will say that the progress of society will stop short in the present
stage of its career? that great communities will not discover a mode of
arbitrating their disputes, as little ones have done? that nations will
not lay aside their present ideas of independence and rivalship, and find
themselves more happy and more secure in one great universal society,
which shall contain within itself its own principles of defence, its own
permanent security? It is evident that national security, in order to be
permanent, must be founded on the moral force of society at large, and not
on the physical force of each nation independently exerted. The _ultima
ratio_ must not be a cannon, but a reference to some rational mode of
decision worthy of rational beings.
_Else what high tones of rapture must have told
The first great action of a chief so bold!_
Book V. Line 767.
General Arnold, the leader of this detachment, had acquired by this
and many other brilliant achievements a degree of military fame almost
unequalled among the American generals. His shameful defection afterwards,
by the foulest of treason, should be lamented as a national dishonor; it
has not only obliterated his own glory, but it seems in some sort to have
cast a shade on that of others whose brave actions had been associated with
his in the acquisition of their common and unadulterated fame.
The action here alluded to, the march thro the wilderness from Casco to
Quebec, was compared in the gazettes of that day to the passage of the Alps
by Hannibal. And really, considered as a scene of true military valor,
patient suffering and heroic exertion (detached from the idea of subsequent
success in the ulterior expedition) the comparison did not disgrace the
Carthaginian. Yet since the defection of Arnold, which happened five
years afterwards, this audacious and once celebrated exploit is
scarcely mentioned in our annals. And Meigs, Dearborn, Morgan and other
distinguished officers in the expedition, whom that alone might have
immortalized, have been indebted to their subsequent exertions of patriotic
valor for the share of celebrity their names now enjoy.
See the character of Arnold treated more at large in the sixth book.
_See the black Prison Ship's expanding womb
Impested thousands, quick and dead, entomb._
Book VI. Line 35.
The systematic and inflexible course of cruelties exercised by the British
armies on American prisoners during the three first years of the war were
doubtless unexampled among civilized nations. Considering it as a war
against rebels, neither their officers nor soldiers conceived themselves
bound by the ordinary laws of war.
The detail of facts on this subject, especially in what concerned the
prison ships, has not been sufficiently noticed in our annals; at least not
so much noticed as the interest of public morals would seem to require. Mr.
Boudinot, who was the American commissary of prisoners at the time, has
since informed the author of this poem that in one prison ship alone,
called the Jersey, which was anchored near Newyork, _eleven thousand_
American prisoners died in eighteen months; almost the whole of them from
the barbarous treatment of being stifled in a crowded hold with infected
air, and poisoned with unwholesome food.
There were several other prison ships, as well as the sugar-house prison
in the city, whose histories ought to be better known than they are. I say
this not from any sort of enmity to the British nation, for I have none. I
respect the British nation; as will be evident from the views I have given
of her genius and institutions in the course of this work. I would at all
times render that nation every service consistent with my duty to my own;
and surely it is worthy of her magnanimity to consider as a real service
every true information given her relative to the crimes of her agents in
distant countries. These crimes are as contrary to the spirit of the nation
at home as they are to the temper of her laws.
_Myrtles and laurels equal honors join'd,
Which arms had purchased and the Muses twined;_
Book VI, Line 273.
General Burgoyne had gained some celebrity by his pen, as well as by his
sword, previous to the American war. He was author of the comedy called
_The Heiress_, and of some other theatrical pieces which had been well
received on the London theatres.
_Deep George's loaded lake reluctant guides
Their bounding larges o'er his sacred tides._
Book VI. Line 285.
The water of Lake George was held in particular veneration by the French
catholics of Canada. Of this they formerly made their holy water; which was
carried and distributed to the churches thro the province, and probably
produced part of the revenues of the clergy. This water is said to have
been chosen for the purpose on account of its extreme clearness. The lake
was called _Lac du Saint Sacrement_.
_His savage hordes the murderous Johnson leads,
Files thro the woods and treads the tangled weeds,_
Book VI. Line 389.
This was general sir John Johnson, an American royalist in the British
service. He was the son of sir William Johnson, who had been a rich
proprietor and inhabitant in the Mohawk country, in the colony of New York,
and had been employed by the king as superintendant of Indian affairs. Sir
William had married a Mohawk savage wife; and it was supposed that the
great influence which he had long exercised over that and the neighboring
tribes must have descended to his son. It was on this account that he
was employed on the expedition of Burgoyne; in which he had the rank of
brigadier general, and the special direction of the savages.
_Are these thy trophies, Carleton! these the swords
Thy hand unsheath'd and gave the savage hordes,_
Book VI. Line 685.
General sir Guy Carleton, afterwards lord Dorchester, was the British
governor of Canada and superintendant of Indian affairs at the time of
Burgoyne's campaign. Having great influence with the warlike tribes who
inhabited the west of Canada and the borders of the Lakes, he was ordered
by the minister to adopt the barbarous and unjustifiable measure of arming
and bringing them into the king's service in aid of this expedition.
This was doubtless done with the consent of Burgoyne, tho he seems to have
been apprehensive of the difficulty of managing a race of men whose manners
were so ferocious, and whose motives to action must have been so different
from those of the principal parties in the war. Burgoyne, in his narrative
of this campaign, informs us that he took precautions to discourage that
inhuman mode of warfare which had been customary among those savages. He
ordered them to kill none but such persons as they should find in arms
fighting against the king's troops; to spare old men, women, children and
prisoners; and not to scalp any but such as they should kill in open war.
He intimated to them that he should not pay for any scalps but those thus
taken from enemies killed in arms.
It is unfortunate for the reputation of the general and of his government,
that they did not reflect on the futility of such an order and the
improbability of its being executed. A certain price was offered for
scalps; the savages must know that in a bag of scalps, packed and dried and
brought into camp and counted out before the commissary to receive payment,
it would be impossible to distinguish the political opinions or the
occupation, age or sex of the heads to which they had belonged; it could
not be ascertained whether they had been taken from Americans or British,
whigs or tories, soldiers killed in arms or killed after they had resigned
their arms, militia men or peasants, old or young, male or female.
The event proved the deplorable policy of employing such auxiliaries,
especially in such multitudes as were brought together on this occasion. No
sooner did hostilities begin between the two armies than these people, who
could have no knowledge of the cause nor affection for either party, and
whose only object was plunder and pay, began their indiscriminate and
ungovernable ravages on both sides. They robbed and murdered peasants,
whether royalists or others; men, women, children, straggling and wounded
soldiers of both armies. The tragical catastrophe of a young lady of the
name of Macrea, whose story is almost literally detailed in the foregoing
paragraphs of the text, is well known. It made a great impression on the
public mind at the time, both in England and America.
General Carleton, in the preceding campaigns, when the war was carried into
Canada, had been applauded for his humanity in the treatment of prisoners.
But the part he took in this measure of associating the savages in the
operations of the British army was a stain upon his character; and the
measure was highly detrimental to the royal cause, on account of the
general indignation it excited thro the country.
_That no proud privilege from birth can spring,
No right divine, nor compact form a king;_
Book VII. Line 39.
The assumed right of kings, or that supreme authority which one man
exercises over a nation, and for which he is not held accountable, has been
contended for on various grounds. It has been sometimes called the _right
of conquest;_ in which is involved the absolute disposal of the lives
and labors of the conquered nation, in favor of the victorious chief
and his descendants to perpetuity. Sometimes it is called the _divine
right;_ in which case kings are considered as the vicegerents of God.
This notion is very ancient, and it is almost universal among modern
nations. Homer is full of it; and from his unaffected recurrence to the
same idea every where in his poems, it is evident that in his day it was
not called in question. The manner in which the Jews were set at work to
constitute their first king proves that they were convinced that, if they
must have a king, he must be given them from God, and receive that solemn
consecration which should establish his authority on the same divine right
which was common to other nations, from whom they borrowed the principle.
There are some few instances in history wherein this divine right has
been set aside; but it has generally been owing rather to the violence
of circumstances, which sometimes drive men to act contrary to their
prejudices, tho they still retain them, than to any effort of reasoning
by which they convinced themselves that this was a prejudice, and that no
divine right existed in reality. For it does not violate this supposed
right, to change one king for another, or one race of kings for another,
tho done in a manner the most unjust and inhuman. In this case the same
divine right remains, and only changes, with the diadem, from one head to
another. And tho this change should happen six times in one day (as in one
instance it has done in Algiers by the murder of six successive kings) they
would still say it was God who did it all; and the action would only tend
to prove to the credulous people, that God was made after their own image,
as changeable as themselves.
It is only in the case of Tarquin and a few others (whose overthrow has
been followed by a more popular form of government) that it can be said
that the principle of the divine right has been disregarded, laid aside and
forgotten for any length of time.
The English are perhaps the first and only people that ever overturned
this doctrine of the divinity of kings, without changing their form of
government. This was brought on by circumstances, and took effect in the
expulsion of James II. Books were then written to prove that the divine
right of kings did not exist; at least, not in the sense in which it had
been understood. And these writings completely silenced the old doctrine in
England. This indeed was gaining an immense advantage in favor of liberty;
tho the effort of reason, to arrive at it, seems to be so small.
But while the English were discarding the old principle they set up a
new one; which indeed is not so pernicious because it cannot become so
extensive, but which is scarcely more reasonable: it is the right of kings
by _compact;_ that is, a compact, whether written or understood,
by which the representatives of a nation are supposed to bind their
constituents and their descendants to be the subjects of a certain prince
and of his descendants to perpetuity. This singular doctrine is developed
with perspicuity, but ill supported by argument, in Burke's _Reflections
on the French Revolution._
The principle of the American government denies the right of any
representatives to make such a compact, and the right of any prince to
carry it into execution if it were made. Whatever varieties or mixtures
there may be in the _forms_ of government, there are but two distinct
principles on which government is founded. One supposes the source of power
to be _out_ of the people, and that the governor is not accountable to
them for the manner of using it; the other supposes the source of power to
be _in_ the people, and that the governor is accountable to them for
the manner of using it. The latter is our principle. In this sense no
_right divine_ nor _compact_ can form a king; that is, a person,
exercising underived and unreverting power.
_But while dread Elliott shakes the Midland wave,
They strive in vain the Calpian rock to brave._
Book VII. Line 89.
The English general Elliott commanded the post of Gibraltar, against which
the combined forces of France and Spain made a vigorous but fruitless
attack in the year 1781. This attack furnished the subjects for two
celebrated pictures alluded to in the eighth book: _The burning of the
Floating Batteries_ painted by Copley; and _The Sortie_, painted by
_To guide the sailor in his wandering way,
See Godfrey's glass reverse the beams of day._
Book VIII. Line 681.
It is less from national vanity than from a regard to truth and a desire of
rendering personal justice, that the author wishes to rectify the history
of science in the circumstance here alluded to. The instrument known by the
name of Hartley's Quadrant, now universally in use and generally attributed
to Dr. Hartley, was invented by Thomas Godfrey of Philadelphia. See
Jefferson's Notes on Virginia; likewise Miller's Retrospect of the
Eighteenth Century, in which the original documents relative to Godfrey's
invention are fully detailed.
_West with his own great soul the canvass warms,
Creates, inspires, impassions human forms._
Book VIII. Line 587.
Benjamin West, president of the Royal Academy in London, was born and
educated in Pennsylvania. At the age of twenty-three he went to Italy to
perfect his taste in the art to which his genius irresistibly impelled him;
in which he was destined to cast a splendor upon the age in which he lives,
and probably to excel all his cotemporaries, so far at least as we can
judge from the present state of their works. After passing two years in
that country of models, where canvass and marble seem to contribute their
full proportion of the population, he went to London.
Here he soon rendered himself conspicuous for the boldness of his designs,
in daring to shake off the trammels of the art so far as to paint modern
history in modern dress. He had already staggered the connoisseurs in Italy
while he was there, by his picture of _The Savage Chief taking leave of
his family on going to war_. This extraordinary effort of the American
pencil on an American subject excited great admiration at Venice. The
picture was engraved in that city by Bartolozzi, before either he or West
went to England. The artists were surprised to find that the expression of
the passions of men did not depend on the robes they wore. And his
early works in London, _The Death of Wolfe_, _The Battles of the
Boyne_, _Lahogue_, &c., engraved by Woollett and others, not only
established his reputation, but produced a revolution in the Art. So that
modern dress has now become as familiar in fictitious as in real life; it
being justly considered essential in painting modern history.
The engraving from his Wolfe has been often copied in France, Italy and
Germany; and it may be said that in this picture the revolution in painting
really originated. It would now be reckoned as preposterous in an artist
to dress modern personages in Grecian or Roman habits, as it was before to
give them the garb of the age and country to which they belonged.
The merit of Mr. West was early noticed and encouraged by the king; who
took him into pay with a convenient salary, and the title of historical
painter to his majesty. In this situation he has decorated the king's
palaces, chapels and churches with most of those great pictures from the
English history and from the Old and New Testament, which compose so
considerable a portion of his works.
The following catalogue of his pictures was furnished me by Mr. West
himself in the year 1802. It comprises only his principal productions in
_historical_ painting, and only his _finished_ pictures; without
mentioning his numerous portraits, or his more numerous sketches and
The pictures marked thus * have been engraved. The ciphers express the size
of the pictures. When the same subject is mentioned more than once, there
is more than one picture on that subject.
IN THE QUEEN'S HOUSE.
* Regulus departing from Rome.
* Hannibal sworn when a child.
* Death of Wolfe.
Damsel accusing Peter.
* Death of Epaminondas.
Apotheosis of the two young princes.
* Death of chevalier Bayard.
Germanicus, with Segestus and his daughter prisoners.
* Cyrus, with a king and family captives.
IN THE KING'S APARTMENTS AT WINDSOR.
Edward III crossing the Somme.
Battle of Cressy, Edward embracing his son.
Edward III crowning Ribemond at Calais.
St. George destroying the Dragon.
The Six Burgesses of Calais before Edward.
Battle of Poietiers, king of France prisoner to the Black Prince.
Institution of the Order of the Garter.
Battle of Nevilcross.
The same on glass for the west window of the church at Windsor, 36 feet
Peter, John and women at the Sepulchre.
The same on glass for the east window of the same church, 36 feet by 28.
The Angels appearing to the Shepherds.
Nativity of Christ.
Kings presenting gifts to Christ.
IN THE MARBLE GALLERY, WINDSOR CASTLE.
Hymen dancing with the Hours before Peace and Plenty.
Boys with the insignia of the Fine Arts.
Boys with the insignia of Riches.
IN THE KING'S CHAPEL AT WINDSOR.
A complete history of Revealed Religion, divided into four dispensations,
and comprised in thirty-eight pictures.
Adam and Eve created. 9 feet by 6.
Adam and Eve driven from Paradise. do.
The Deluge. do.
Noah sacrificing. do.
Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac. do.
Birth of Jacob and Esau. do.
Death of Jacob, surrounded by his sons. do.
Bondage of the Israelites in Egypt. do.
Moses called. do.
Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh, their rods turned to serpents. 15 feet
Pharaoh's Army lost in the sea.
Moses receiving the Law. 18 feet by 12.
Hoses consecrating Aaron and his sons to the Priesthood. 15 feet by 10.
Moses shows the Brazen Serpent. 15 feet by 10.
Moses on Mount Pisgah sees the Promised Land and dies. 9 feet by 6.
Joshua passing the Jordan, do.
The twelve Tribes drawing their lots. do.
David called and anointed, do.
John Baptist called and named. do.
Christ born. do.
Christ offered gifts by the Wise Men. do.
Christ among the Doctors, do.
Christ baptized, and the Holy Spirit descending on him. 15 feet by 10.
Christ healing the Sick. do.
Christ's last Supper. do.
Christ's Crucifixion. 36 feet by 28.
Christ's Resurrection, Peter, John and the women at the Sepulchre. do.
* Christ's Ascension. 18 feet by 12.
Peter's first Sermon, Descent of the Holy Spirit. 15 feet by 10.
The Apostles preaching and working miracles. do.
Paul and Barnabas turning from the Jews to the Gentiles. do.
John seeing the Son of Man, and called to write. 9 feet by 6.
The Throne surrounded by the Four Beasts, and Saints laying down their
crowns. 9 feet by 6.
Death on the Pale Horse, and the Opening of the Seals. do.
The White Horse and his legions, and the Man destroying the Old Beast.
General Resurrection, the end of Death. do.
Christ's Second Coming. do.
The New Jerusalem. do.
IN THE COLLECTION OF MR. BECKFORD.
Michael and his angels casting out the Red Dragon and his angels.
The Woman clothed with the Sun.
John called to write the Apocalypse.
The Beast rising out of the sea.
The mighty Angel, one foot on sea the other on land.
St. Anthony of Padua.
The Madre Dolorosa.
Simeon with the Child in his arms.
Landscape, with a Hunt in the back ground.
Abraham and Isaac going to sacrifice.
Thomas a Becket.
Angel in the Sun.
Order of the Garter, differing in composition from that at Windsor.
IN THE COLLECTION OF EARL GROSVENOR.
The Shunamite's son raised to life by Elisha.
Jacob blessing the sons of Joseph.
* Death of Wolfe.
* Battle of Lahogue.
* Battle of the Boyne.
* Restoration of Charles II.
* Cromwell dissolving the Parliament.
The Golden Age.
General Wolfe when a boy.
IN THE COLLECTION OF MR. HOPE.
* Telemachus and Calypso.
* Angelica and Madora.
The Damsel and Orlando.
Cicero at the tomb of Archimedes.
St. Paul's Conversion.
St. Paul persecuting the Christians.
His restoration to sight by Ananias.
Mr. Hope's family; nine figures, size of life.
IN THE HISTORICAL GALLERY, PALLMALL.
The Queen soliciting king Henry to pardon her son John.
IN GREENWICH HOSPITAL.
Paul shaking the Viper from his finger.
Paul preaching at Athens.
Elymas the Sorcerer struck blind.
Cornelius and the Angel.
Peter delivered from prison.
Conversion of St. Paul.
Paul before Felix.
Return of the Prodigal Son.
LARGE FIGURES OF
IN DIFFERENT CHURCHES.
Michael chaining the Dragon.
Angels announcing the birth of Christ.
St. Stephen stoned to death.
Raising of Lazarus.
Paul shaking off the Viper.
The last Supper.
Resurrection of Christ.
Peter denying Christ.
Moses showing the Brazen Serpent.
John seeing the Lamb of God.
A Mother leading her children to the Temple of Virtue.
IN VARIOUS COLLECTIONS.
Lord Clive taking the dunny from the Mogul.
Christ receiving the Sick. _Pensyl. hospital._
* Leonidas exiling Cleombrotus and family.
The two Marys at the Sepulchre.
Alexander and his Physician.
Cesar reading the Life of Alexander.
Death of Adonis.
Continence of Scipio.
* Savage Warrior taking leave of his family.
Venus and Cupid.
Alfred dividing his loaf with the Beggar.
Helen presented to Paris.
Cupid stung by a bee.
Simeon and the Child.
* William Penn treating with the Savages.
Destruction of the Spanish Armada.
Philippa soliciting of Edward the pardon of the citizens of Calais.
Europa on the Bull.
Death of Hyacinthus.
Death of Cesar.
Venus presenting her cestus to Juno.
Rinaldo and Armida.
Pharaoh's Daughter with the child Moses.
The stolen Kiss.
Angelica and Madora.
Woman of Samaria at the well with Christ.
Agrippina leaning on the urn of Germanicus.
Death of Wolfe.
The same; smaller size.
Romeo and Juliet.
King Lear and his Daughters.
Belisarius and the Boy.
Sir Francis Baring and family.
* Mr. West and family.
A Mother and Child.
Jupiter and Semele.
Petus and Arria.
Venus and Cupid smiling at Europa when Jupiter had left her.
Rebecca coming to Jacob.
Rebecca receiving the bracelets at the well.
Agrippina landing at Brundusium with the ashes of Germanieus,
Endymion and Diana.
IN THE COLLECTION OF ROBERT FULTON.
Ophelia distracted, before the king and queen
*King Lear in the storm,
IN MR. WEST'S OWN COLLECTION.
Hector taking leave of his Wife and Child.
Elisha raising the Shunamite's Son.
The raising of Lazarus.
Macbeth and the Witches.
The return of Tobias.
Return of the Prodigal Son.
Ariadne on the sea shore.
Death of Adonis.
King of France brought to the Black Prince.
* Death of Wolfe.
Venus and Adonis.
Battle of Lahogue.
Edward III crossing the Somme.
Philippa at the Battle of Nevilcross.
Angels announcing the birth of Christ.
Kings bringing presents to Christ.
View on the river Thames.
View on the Susquehanna.
Picture of Tankers Mill at Eton.
Chryseis restored to her Father.
Antiochus and Stratoftice.
King Lear and his Daughters.
Chryseus on the sea shore.
Nathan and David. _Thou art the man_.
Elijah raising the widow's Son.
Choice of Hercules.
Venus and Europa.
Daniel interpreting the Writing on the Wall.
Marius on the ruins of Carthage.
* Cymon and Iphigenia.
Cicero at the tomb of Archimedes.
* Alexander, king of Scotland, rescued from the Stag.
Battle of Cressy.
* Mr. West and his family.
* Anthony shows Cesar's Robe and Will.
Egysthus viewing the body of Clytemnestra.
Recovery of king George in 1789.
A large landscape in Windsor Forest.
Ophelia before the King and Queen.
Leonidas taking leave of his family.
Phaeton receiving from Apollo the chariot of the Sun.
The Eagle giving the cup of water to Psyche.
Moonlight and the Beckoning Ghost. _Pope._
Angel sitting on the stone at the Sepulchre.
The same subject differently composed.
* Angelica and Madora.
The Damsel and Orlando.
The Good Samaritan.
Old Beast and False Prophet destroyed.
Christ healing the sick in the temple.
Death on the Pale Horse.
Jason and the Dragon.
Venus and Adonis seeing the Cupids bathe.
Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh.
Passage boat on the Canal.
Paul and Barnabas rejecting the Jews and turning to the Gentiles.
Diomed, his horses struck with lightning.
Milk-woman in St. James's Park.
Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.
Order of the Garter.
Orion on the Dolphin's back.
Queen Elizabeth's Procession to St. Paul's.
Christ showing a child, emblem of heaven.
St. Paul shaking off the Viper.
Sun setting at Twickenham on Thames.
Driving sheep and cows to water.
Cattle drinking, and Mr. West drawing, in Windsor Park.
Pharaoh and his boat in the Red Sea.
Telemachus and Calypso.
Moses consecrating Aaron and his sons.
A Mother inviting her little boy to come to her thro a brook.
Brewer's porter and hod carrier.
Venus attended by the Graces.
Naming of Samuel.
Birth of Jacob and Esau.
Ascension of Christ.
Samuel presented to Eli.
Moses shown the Promised Land.
Christ among the Doctors.
Adonis and his dog.
Mothers with their children in water.
Joshua crossing the Jordan with the Ark.
* Pyrrhus when a child before king Glaucus.
The Man laying his bread on the bridle of the dead Ass. _Sterne._
The Captive. _Ditto._
Cupid letting loose two Doves.
Children eating cherries.
St. Anthony of Padua and the Child.
Jacob and Laban with his two daughters.
The Women looking into the Sepulchre and seeing two Angels where the
The Angel unchaining Peter in prison.
Death of sir Philip Sidney.
Death of Epaminondas.
Death of chevalier Bayard.
Death of Cephalus.
* Kosciusko on a couch.
Abraham and Isaac. _Here is the wood and fire, but where is the lamb
Eponina with her children giving bread to her husband when in
King Henry pardoning his brother.
John at the prayer of his mother.
Death of lord Chatham. Presentation of the Crown to William the
Europa crowning the Bull with flowers.
West's garden, gallery and painting room.
Cave of Despair. _Spencer_.
Cupid shows Venus his finger stung by a bee.
Ubald brings his three daughters to Alfred for him to choose one for
* Pylades and Orestes.
Besides the two hundred and ninety-nine large finished pictures here
mentioned, Mr. West has done about one hundred portraits, and upwards of
two hundred drawings with the pen; which last, for sublimity of conception,
are among the finest of his works. So that the whole of his pieces amount
to above six hundred. Some of them are larger in size than any in the
national gallery of France; and he has not been assisted by any other
Mr. West is now about sixty-eight years of age. He discovers no abatement
in the activity of his genius, nor in the laborious exercise of his
talents. He has painted several fine pictures since the above catalogue
was made. Three of which I have particularly noticed in his painting room:
Tobet and Tobias with the fish; Abraham sending away Hagar with her child;
Achilles receiving from Thetis the new armor; and we hear that he has
lately painted the Death of Nelson. He may yet produce many more original
works; tho it is presumed he has already exceeded all other historical
painters, except Rubens, in the number and variety of his productions. With
regard to the merit of his pictures, I cannot pretend to form a judgment
that would be of any use in directing that of others. He is doubtless the
most classical painter, except Raphael, whose works are known to us.
The critics find fault with the coloring of Mr. West. But in his works,
as in those of Raphael, we do not look for coloring. It is dignity of
character, fine expression, delicate design, correct drawing and beautiful
disposition of drapery which fix the suffrage of the real judge. All which
qualities can only spring from an elevated mind.
_Nile pours from heaven a tutelary flood,
And gardens grow the vegetable god._
Book IX. Line 287.
O sanctas gentes, quibus haec nascuntur in hortis Numina.
Juv. Sat. 15.
_Tis to correct their fatal faults of old,
When, caught by tinsel, they forgot the gold._
Book IX. Line 499.
The state of the arts and sciences among the ancients, viewed with
reference to the event of universal civilization, was faulty in two
respects. First, In their comparative estimation: Second, In their
flourishing only in one nation at a time. These circumstances might be
favorable to the exertions of individual genius; and they may be assigned
both as causes of the universal destruction of the arts and sciences by
the Gothic conquest, and as reasons why we should not greatly lament that
From the political state of mankind in the days of their ancient splendor
it was natural that those arts which depend on the imagination, such as
Architecture, Statuary, Painting, Eloquence and Poetry, should claim the
highest rank in the estimation of a people. In several, perhaps all of
these, the ancients remain unrivalled. But these are not the arts which
tend the most to the general improvement of society. A man in those days
would have rendered more service to the world by ascertaining the true
figure and movements of the earth, than by originating a heaven and filling
it with all the gods of Homer; and had the expenses of the Egyptian
pyramids been employed in furnishing ships of discovery and sending them
out of the Mediterranean, the nations called civilized would not have been
afterwards overrun by Barbarians.
But the sciences of Geography, Navigation and Commerce, with their
consequent improvements in Natural Philosophy and Humanity, could not, from
the nature of things at that time, become objects of great encouragement or
enterprise. Talent was therefore confined to the cultivation of arts more
striking to the senses. As these arts were adapted to gratify the vanity
of princes, to help carry on the sacred frauds of priests, to fire the
ambition of heroes, or to gain causes in popular assemblies, they were
brought to a degree of perfection which prevented their being relished or
understood by barbarous neighbors.
The improvements of the world therefore, whether in literature, sciences or
arts, descended with the line of conquest from one nation to another, till
the whole were concentred in the Roman empire. Their tendency there was to
inspire a contempt for nations less civilized, and to teach the Romans to
consider all mankind as the proper objects of their military despotism.
These circumstances prepared, thro a course of ages, and finally opened a
scene of wretchedness at which the human mind has been taught to shudder.
But some such convulsion seemed necessary to reduce the nations to a
position capable of commencing regular improvements. And, however novel the
sentiment may appear, I will venture to say that, as to the prospect of
universal civilization, mankind were in a better situation in the time of
Charlemagne than they were in the days of Augustus.
The final destruction of the Roman empire left the nations of Europe
in circumstances similar to each other; and their consequent rivalship
prevented any disproportionate refinement from appearing in any particular
region. The principles of government, firmly rooted in the Feudal System,
unsocial and unphilosophical as they were, laid the foundation of that
balance of power which discourages the Cesars and Alexanders of modern ages
from attempting the conquest of the world.
It seems necessary that the arrangement of events in civilizing the world
should be in the following order: _first_, all parts of it must be
considerably peopled; _second_, the different nations must be known
to each other; _third_, their wants must be increased, in order to
inspire a passion for commerce. The first of these objects was not probably
accomplished till a late period. The second for three centuries past has
been greatly accelerated. The third is a necessary consequence of the two
former. The spirit of commerce is happily calculated to open an amicable
intercourse between all countries, to soften the horrors of war, to enlarge
the field of science, and to assimilate the manners, feelings and languages
of all nations. This leading principle, in its remoter consequences,
will produce advantages in favor of free government, give patriotism the
character of philanthropy, induce all men to regard each other as brethren
and friends, and teach them the benefits of peace and harmony among the
I conceive it no objection to this theory that the progress has hitherto
been slow; when we consider the magnitude of the object, the obstructions
that were to be removed, and the length of time taken to accomplish it.
The future progress will probably be more rapid than the past. Since the
invention of printing, the application of the properties of the magnet,
and the knowledge of the structure of the solar system, it is difficult to
conceive of a cause that can produce a new state of barbarism; unless it be
some great convulsion in the physical world, so extensive as to change the
face of the earth or a considerable part of it. This indeed may have been
the case already more than once, since the earth was first peopled with
men, and antecedent to our histories. But such events have nothing to do
with the present argument.
_Herschel ascends himself with venturous wain,
And joins and flanks thy planetary train,_
Book IX. Line 601.
The planet discovered by Herschel was called by him Georgium Sidus; but in
all countries except England it is named Herschel, and probably will be so
named there after his death and that of the patron to whom his gratitude
led him to make this extraordinary dedication.
I would observe that, besides the impropriety of giving it another name
than that of the discoverer, it is inconvenient to use a double name, or a
name composed of two words. Let it be either George or Herschel.
The passage referred to in this note was written before the discovery of
the three other planets which are now added to our catalogue. Could my
voice have weight in deciding on the names to be given to these new
children of the sun, I would call them by the names of their respective
discoverers, Piazzi, Gibers and Harding, instead of the senseless and
absurd appellations of Ceres, Pallas and Juno. The former method would at
least assist us in preserving the history of science; the latter will only
tend farther to confuse a very ancient mythology which is already extremely
confused, and increase the difficulty of following the faint traces of real
knowledge that seems couched under the mass of that mythology; traces which
may one day lead to many useful truths in philosophy and morals.
_To build on ruin'd realms the shrine of fame,
And load his numbers with a tyrant's name._
Book X. Line 261.
A most useful book might be written on this subject. It should be a Review
of Poets and Historians, as to the moral and political tendency of their
works. It should likewise treat of the importance of the task assigned to
these two classes of writers. It might attempt to point out the true object
they ought to have in view; perhaps do this with such clearness and energy
as to gain the attention of writers as well as readers, and thus serve in
some measure as a guide to future historians and poets. At least it would
prove a guide to readers; and by teaching them how to judge, and what
to praise or blame in the accounts of human actions, whether real or
fictitious, the public taste would be reformed by degrees. In this case the
recorders of heroic actions, as well as the authors of them, would find it
necessary to follow this reform, or they must necessarily fail of obtaining
the celebrity to which they all aspire.
I think every person who will give himself the trouble to form an opinion
on the manner in which actions, called heroic, have been recorded, must
find it faulty; and must lament, as one of the misfortunes of society, that
writers of these two classes almost universally, from Homer down to Gibbon,
have led astray the moral sense of man. In this view we may say in general
of poets and historians, as we do of their heroes, that they have injured
the cause of humanity almost in proportion to the fame they have acquired.
I would not be understood by this observation to mean that such writers
have done no good. Even the works of Homer, which have caused more mischief
to mankind than those of any other, have likewise been a fruitful source of
a certain species of benefits. They elevate the mind of every reader; they
have called forth great exertions of genius in poets, artists, philosophers
and heroes, thro a long succession of ages. But it remains to be considered
what a fruitful source they have likewise been of those false notions of
honor and erroneous systems of policy which have governed the actions of
men from his day to ours.
If, instead of the Iliad, he had given us a work of equal splendor founded
on an opposite principle; whose object should have been to celebrate the
useful arts of agriculture and navigation; to build the immortal fame
of his heroes, and occupy his whole hierarchy of gods, on actions that
contribute to the real advancement of society, instead of striking away
every foundation on which society ought to be established or can be greatly
advanced; mankind, enriched with such a work at that early period, would
have given a useful turn to their ambition thro all succeeding ages.
It is not easy to conceive how different the state of nations would have
been at this day from what we now find it, had such a bent been given to
the pursuits of genius, and such glory cast upon actions truly worthy of
imitation. I have treated this subject more at large in the third chapter
of _Advise to the Privileged Orders_.
But it will be asked how this kind of censure can attach to the writers of
history, whose business is to invent nothing, to confine themselves to
the simple narration of facts, and relate the actions of men, not as they
should be, but as they are. This is indeed a part of the duty of the
historian; but it is not his whole duty. His narrative should be clear and
simple; but he should likewise develop the political and moral tendency of
the transactions he details.
In reviewing actions or doctrines which favor despotism, injustice, false
morals or political errors, he should not suffer them to pass without an
open and well supported censure. He should show how the authors of such
actions might have conducted themselves and succeeded in gaining the
celebrity which they sought, by doing good instead of harm to the age and
country where they acquired their fame.
The history of human actions, in a political view, has generally been the
history of human errors. The writers who have given it to us do not appear
to have been sensible of this. How then are young readers to be sensible
of it? Their minds are still to be formed; and those who are destined for
public life must in a great measure take their bias from the study of
history. But history in general, to answer the purpose of sound instruction
to the future guides of nations, must be rewritten. For example: among the
hundred historians who have treated of what is called the Roman Republic
I know not one who has told us this important fact, that Rome never had a
republic. The same may be said of Athens, and of several other turbulent
associations of men in former ages. And it is for want of this attention
or this knowledge in the writers of their histories, that the republican
principle of government is so generally associated, even at this day, with
the idea of insurrection, anarchy and the desire of conquest. Whereas it
is in fact the _want_ of the republican principle, not the
_practice_ of it, which has occasioned all the insurrections, anarchy
and desire of conquest, that have disturbed the order of society both in
ancient and modern times.
Again: in relating the destruction of Carthage, a measure which the zealous
patriots, both before and after, considered so essential to the glory of
the Roman state, and which has immortalized so many heroes as the authors
and projectors of that destruction, I believe no historian has told us that
the disease, decay and downfall of Rome itself were occasioned by that
measure, and must be dated from that epoch; and that the actions of Regulus
and Scipio, the themes of universal applause, were really more injurious to
their country than those of Marias and Sylla, the objects (and justly so)
of universal detestation.
If these principles had been understood by Polybius and his successors in
the brilliant heritage of history, and had been properly impressed on the
minds of their readers, we should not have heard old Cato's vociferation
_delenda est Carthago_ applied to the American states by an orator of
the British parliament, as we did during the war; because every member of
that parliament must have understood that the prosperity of these states
would be highly advantageous to Britain, from the extensive commercial
intercourse that the relative situation of the two countries required.
Neither should we see at this day the French English nations seeking
to impoverish and extirpate each other; each of them entertaining the
erroneous and absurd opinion that its own prosperity is to be increased by
the adversity of its neighbor. We should have learned long ago from the
plain dictates of reason, instead of having it beat into us some ages hence
by costly experience, that the true dignity of a state is in the happiness
of its members; and that their happiness is best promoted by the pursuit of
industry at home and the free exchange of their productions abroad.
We should have perceived the real and constant interest that every nation
has in the prosperity of its neighbors, instead of their destruction.
France would have perceived that the wealth of the English would be
beneficial to her, by enabling them to receive and pay for more of her
produce. England would have seen the same thing with regard to the French;
and such would have been the sentiments of other nations reciprocally and
I know I must be called an extravagant theorist if I insinuate that all
these good things would have resulted from having history well written and
poetry well conceived. No man will doubt however that such would have been
the tendency; nor can we deny that the contrary has resulted, at least in
some degree, from the manner in which such writings have been composed. And
why should we write at all, if not to benefit mankind? The public mind, as
well as the individual mind, receives its propensities; it is equally the
creature of habit. Nations are educated, like a single child. They only
require a longer time and a greater number of teachers.
_For that fine apologue, in mystic strain,
Gave like the rest a golden age to man,_
Book X. Line 393.
Absurdities in speculative opinion are commonly considered as innocent
things; and we are told every day that they are not worth refuting. So
far as opinions are sure to rest merely in speculation, and cannot in any
degree become practical, this is doubtless the proper way of treating them.
But there are few opinions of this dormant and indifferent kind, especially
among those that become general and classical among the nations.
The activity of such, tho imperceptible, is extensive. They get wrought
into our intellectual existence, and govern our modes of acting as well as
thinking. The interest of society therefore requires that they should be
scrutinized, and that such as are erroneous should be exposed, in order to
be rejected; when their place may be supplied by truth and reason, which
nourish the mind and accelerate the progress of improvement.
Among the absurd notions which early turned the heads of the teachers of
mankind, and which are so ridiculous as generally to escape our censure, is
that of a Golden Age; or the idea that men were more perfect, more moral
and more happy in some early stage of their intercourse, before they
cultivated the earth and formed great societies.
The author of Don Quixote has played his artillery upon this doctrine to
very good effect; he has summoned against it all the force of our contempt
by making it the text of one of the gravest discourses of his hero. But
my sensibility is such on moral and political errors, as rarely to be
satisfied with the weapon of ridicule; tho I know it to be one of the most
mortal of intellectual weapons.
The notion that the social state of men cannot ameliorate, that they have
formerly been better than they now are, and that they are continually
growing worse, is pregnant with infinite mischief. I know no doctrine in
the whole labyrinth of imposture that has a more immoral tendency. It
discourages the efforts of all political virtue; it is a constant and
practical apology for oppression, tyranny, despotism, in every shape,
in every corner of society, as well as from the throne, the pulpit, the
tribunal and the camp. It inculcates the belief that ignorance is better
than knowledge; that war and violence are more natural than industry and
peace; that deserts and tombs are more glorious than joyful cities and
One of the most operative means of bringing forward our improvements and
of making mankind wiser and better than they are, is to convince them that
they are capable of becoming so. Without this conviction they may indeed
improve slowly, unsteadily and almost imperceptibly, as they have done
within the period in which our histories are able to trace them. But this
conviction, impressed on the minds of the chiefs and teachers of nations,
and inculcated in their schools, would greatly expedite our advancement in
public happiness and virtue. Perhaps it would in a great measure insure the
world against any future shocks and retrograde steps, such as heretofore it
has often, experienced.
I am well aware that some readers will be dissatisfied in certain instances
with my orthography. Their judgments are respectable; and as it is not a
wanton deviation from ancient usage on my part, the subject may justify a
moment's retrospect from this place. Since we have arrived at the end of a
work that has given me more pleasure in the composition than it probably
will in its reception by the public, they must pardon me if I thus linger
awhile in taking leave. It is a favorite object of amusement as well as
labor, which I cannot hope to replace.
Our language is constantly and rapidly improving. The unexampled progress
of the sciences and arts for the last thirty years has enriched it with a
great number of new words, which are now become as necessary to the writer
as his ancient mother tongue. The same progress which leads to farther
extensions of ideas will still extend the vocabulary; and our neology must
and will keep pace with the advancement of our knowledge. Hence will
follow a closer definition and more accurate use of words, with a stricter
attention to their orthography.
Such innovations ought undoubtedly to be admitted with caution; and they
will of course be severely scrutinized by men of letters. A language is
public property, in the most extensive sense of the word; and readers as
well as writers arc its guardians. But they ought to have no objection to
improving the estate as it passes thro their hands, by making a liberal tho
rigid estimate of what may be offered as ameliorations. Some respectable
philologists have proposed a total and immediate reform of our orthography
and even of our alphabet; but the great body of proprietors in this
heritage are of opinion that the attempt would be less advantageous than
the slow and certain improvements which are going forward, and which will
necessarily continue to attend the active state of our literature.
We have long since laid aside the Latin diphthongs ae and oe in common
English words, and in some proper names tho not in all. Uniformity in this
respect is desirable and will prevail. Names of that description which
occur in this work I have therefore written with the simple vowel, as
_Cesar_, _Phenicia_, _Etna_, _Medea_.
Another class of our words are in a gradual state of reform. They are those
Latin nouns ending in _or_, which having past thro France on their
way from Rome, changed their _o_ into _eu_. The Norman English
writers restored the Latin _o_, but retained the French _u;_
and tho the latter has been since rejected in most of these words, yet
in others it is still retained by many writers. It is quite useless in
pronunciation; and propriety as well as analogy requires that the reform
should be carried thro. No writer at this day retains the _u_ in
_actor_, _author_, _emperor_ and the far greater part, perhaps nine
tenths, of this class of nouns; why then should it be continued in the few
that remain, such as _labor_, _honor?_ The most accurate authors
reject it in all these, and I have followed the example.
I have also respectable authorities in prose as well as poetry for
expunging the three last letters in _though_ and _through;_ they
being totally disregarded in pronunciation and awkward in appearance. The
long sound of _o_ in many words, as _go, fro_, puts it out of
doubt with respect to _tho;_ and its sound of _oo_, which, frequently
occurs, as in _prove, move_, is an equal justification of _thro_.
All the British poets, from Pope downwards, and several eminent prose
writers, including Shaftsbury and Staunton, have by their practice
supported this orthography.
Some verbs in the past tense, where the usual ending in _ed_ is
harsh and uncouth, hare long ago changed it for _t_, as _fixt_,
_capt_, _meant_, _past_, _blest_. Poetry has extended this innovation
to many other verbs which are necessarily uttered with the sound of _t_,
tho in prose they may still retain for a while their ancient _ed_.
I consider this reform as a valuable improvement in the language, because
it brings a numerous class of words to be written as they are spoken; and
the proportion of the reformed ones is already so considerable that
analogy, or regularity of conjugation, requires us to complete the list.
I have not carried this reform much farther than other poets have done
before me. Examples might perhaps be found for nearly all the instances in
which I have indulged it, such as _perisht_, _astonisht_, tho I have
not been solicitous to seek them. The correction might well be extended to
several remaining verbs of the same class; but it is difficult in this
particular case to fix the proper limit.
With regard to the apostrophe, as employed to mark the elision in the past
tense of verbs, I have followed the example of the most accurate poets; who
use it where the verb in the present tense does not end in _e_, as
_furl'd_, because the _ed_ would add a syllable and destroy the
measure. But where the present tense ends in _e_, it is retained in
the past with the _d_, as _robed_, because it does not add a
The letter _k_ we borrowed from the Greek, and the _c_ from the
Latin. The power of each of these letters at the end of a word is precisely
the same; and the power of one is the same as that of both. Yet our early
writers placed them both at the end of certain words, with the _c_
before the _k_, as _musick_, _publick_, why they did not put the _k_ first,
as being the most ancient character, does not appear. Modern authors have
rejected the _k_ sit the end of this class of words; and no correct
writer will think of replacing such an inconvenient appendage.
The idea of putting a stop to innovation in a living language is absurd,
unless we put a stop to thinking. When a language becomes fixt it becomes
a dead language. Men must leave it for a living one, in which they can
express their ideas with all their changes, extensions and corrections. The
duty of the critic in this case is only to keep a steady watch over the
innovations that are offered, and require a rigid conformity to the general
principles of the idiom. Noah Webster, to whose philological labors our
language will be much indebted for its purity and regularity, has pointed
out the advantages of a steady course of improvement, and how it ought to
be conducted. The Preface to his new Dictionary is an able performance. He
might advantageously give it more development, with some correction, and
publish it as a Prospectus to the great work he now has in hand.
The uniform tendency of our language is towards simplicity as well as
regularity. With this view the final e, in words where it is quite silent
and useless, is dropping off, and will soon disappear. Having long
since resigned the place it held in the greater part of these words, as
_joye_, _ruine_, and more recently in some others, it must finally quit
the remainder where it is still found a superfluous letter, as _active_,
We may even hazard a prediction that our whole class of adjectives ending
in _ous_ will be reformed and brought nearer to their pronunciation by
rejecting the _o_. A similar change may be expected in words ending
in _ss_. These words have already undergone one reform; they were
formerly written with a final _e_, as _wildernesse_. They have
lost the _e_ because it was useless; and as the final _s_ has now
become equally useless, it might be dismissed with as little violence
to the language. But these two projected innovations have not yet been
ventured upon in any degree; and it is not desirable to be the first in so
daring an enterprise, when it is not immediately important.