Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

rich a soil, and under so soft a climate, the weeds of luxury will spring up among the flowers of art : but the spontaneous weeds would grow more rank, if they were allowed the un: disturbed possession of the field. Letters keep a frugal tem, perate nation from growing ferocious, a rich one from be. coming entirely sensual and debauched. Every gift of Hea: ven is sometimes abused ; but good sense and fine talents, by a natural law, gravitate towards virtue, Accidents may drive them out of their proper direction ; but such accidents are an alarming omen, and of dire portent to the times. For if virtue cannot keep to her allegiance those men, who in their hearts confess her divine right, and know the value of her laws, on whose fidelity and obedience can she depend ? May such geniuses never descend to flatter vice, encourage folly, or propagate irreligion ; but exert all their powers in the service of virtue, and celebrate the noble choice of those, who, like Hercules, preferred her to pleasure !

LORD LYTTELTON..

SECTION IM.

MARCUS AURELIUS PHILOSOPHUS AND SERVIU ;

- TULLIUS.

An absolute and a limited monarchy compared.

SERVIUS TULLIUS. . Yes, Marcus, though I own you to have been the first of mankind in virtue and goodness; though, while you governed, philosophy sat on the throne, and diffused the benign infuences of her administration over the whole Roman Empire, yet, as a king, I might, perhaps, pretend to a merit even superior to yours.

MARCUS AURELIUS. That philosophy you ascribe to me has taught me to feel my own defects, and to venerate the virtues of other men. Tell me, therefore, in what consisted the superiority of your merit, as a king. .

SERVIUS TULLIUS. It consisted in this, that I gave my people freedom. I di| minished, I limited the kingly power, when it was placed in

my hands. I need not tell you, that the plan of government instituted by me, was adopted by the Romans, when they had

driven out Tarquin, the destroyer of their liberty ; and gave its form to that republic, composed of a due mixture of the regal, aristocratical, and democratical powers, the strength and wisdom of which subdued the world. Thus all the glory of that great people, who for many ages excelled the rest of mankind, in the arts of policy, belongs originally to me.

MARCUS AURELIUS. . There is much truth in what you say. But would not the Romans have done better, if, after the expulsion of Tarquin, they had vested the regal power in a limited monarch, in stead of placing it in two annual elective magistrates, with the title of consuls ? This was a great deviation from your plan of government, and I think an unwise one. For a divided royalty is a solecism, an absurdity in politics. Nor was the regal power, committed to the administration of consuls, continued in their hands long enough, to enable them to finish any act of great moment. From hence arose a necessity of prolonging their commands beyond the legal term; of shortening the interval prescribed by the laws between the elections of those offices, and of granting extraordinary aommissions and powers; by all which the republic was in the end destroyed. ....

SERVIUS TULLIUS. The revolution which ensued upon the death of Lucretia, was made with so much anger, that it is no wonder the Romans abolished in their fury the name of king, and desired to weaken a power, the exercise of which had been so grievous : though the doing of this was attended with all the inconveniences you have justly observed. But if anger acted too violently in reforming abuses, philosophy might have wisely corrected that error. Marcus Aurelius might have new-modelled the constitution of Rome. He might have made it a limited monarchy, leaving to the emperors all the power that was necessary to govern a wide, extended empire, and to the senate and people all the liberty that could be consistent with order and obedience to government; a liberty purged of faction, and guarded against anarchy.

MARCUS AURELIUS. I should have been happy indeed, if it had been in my power to do such good to my country. But heaven will not force its blessings on men, who by their vices are become incapable of receiving them. Liberty, like power, is only good for those who possess it, when it is under the

constant direction of virtue. No laws can have force enough i to hinder it from degenerating into faction and anarchy,

where the morals of a nation are depraved ; and continued habits of vice will eradicate the very love of it out of the hearts of a people. A Marcus Brutus, in my time, could not have drawn to his standard a single legion of Romans. But further, it is certain that the spirit of liberty is absolutely incompatible with the spirit of conquest. To keep great conquered nations in subjection and obedience, great standing armies are necessary. The generals of those armies will not long remain subject : and whoever acquires dominion by the sword, must rule by the sword. If he does not destroy liberty, liberty will destroy him.

SERVIUS TULLIUS. Do you then justify Augustus for the change he made in the Roman government ?

MARCUS AURELIUS. I do not : for Augustus had no lawful authority to make that change. His power was usurpation and breach of trust. But the government, which he seized with a violent hand, came to me by a lawful and established rule of succession.

SERVIUS TULLIUS. Can any length of establishment make despotism lawful ? Is not liberty an inherent, inalienable right of mankind ?

MARCUS AURELIUS. They have an inherent right to be governed by laws, not by arbitrary will. But forms of government may, and must be occasionally changed, with the consent of the people. When I reigned over them, the Romans were governed | by laws.

SERVIUS TULLIUS. Yes, because your moderation, and the precepts of that philosophy in which your youth had been tutored, inclined you to make the laws the rule of your government, and the bounds of your power. But, if you had desired to govern otherwise, had they power to restrain you ?

MARCUS AURELIUS. They had not : the Imperial authority in my time had be limitations.

SERVIUS TULLIUS. Rome therefore was in reality as much enslaved under you, as under your son ; and you left him the power of the rapnizing over it by hereditary right.

MARCUS AURELIUS. - did ;-and, the conclusion of that tyranny was, his murder.

- SERVIUS TULLIUS. Unhappy father! unhappy king! what a detestable thing is absolute monarchy, when even the virtues of Marcus Aurelius could not hinder it from being destructive to his family, and pernicious to his country, any longer than the pe. riod of his own life! But how happy is that kingdom, in which a limited monarch presides over a state so justly poised* that it guards itself from such evils, and has no need to take refuge in arbitrary power against the dangers of anarchy ; which is almost as bad a resource, as it would be for a ship to run itself on a rock, in order to escape from the agitation of a tempest.

LORD LYTTELTON.

SECTION IV

THERON AND ASPASIO.
On the excellence of the Holy Scriptures.

THERON. I Fear my friend suspects me to be somewhat wavering, or defective, in veneration for ine Srciptures.

ASPASIO. No, Theron, I have a better opinion of your taste and discernment, than to harbour any such suspicion.

THERON. The Scriptures are certainly an inexhaustible fund of materials, for the most delightful and ennobling discourse and meditation. When we consider the Author of those sacred books, that they came originally from Heaven, were dictated

* The young reaisr will here be naturally reminded of the excellence of the British Constitution; a fabric which has stood the test of ages, and attracted the admiration of the world. It combines the advantages of the three great forms of government, without their inconveniences : it preserves a happy balance amongst them : and it contains within it. self the power of recurring to first principles, and of rectifying all the disorders of time. May Divine Providence perpetuate this invaluable constitution, and excite in the hearts of Britons, grateful acknowledge ments for this blessing, and for many others by which they are emineata ly distinguished'

by Divine Wisdom, have the same consummate excellence is the works of creation ; it is really surprising, that we are not often searching, by study, by meditation, or conterse, into one or other of those important volumes.

ASPASIO. I admire, I'must confess, the very language and composition of the Bible. Would you see history in all her simplicity, and all her force ; most beautifully easy, yet irresistibly striking !--See her, or rather feel her energy, touching the nicest movements of the soul, and triumphing over our pagsions, in the inimitable narrative of Joseph's life. The representation of Esau's bitter distress; the conversation pieces of Jonathan and his gallant friend; the memorable journal of the disciples going to Emmaus ; are finished models of the impassioned and affecting. Here is nothing studied ; here are no flights of fancy ; no embellishments of oratory. If we sometimes choose a plaintive strain, such as softens the mind, and sooths an agreeable melancholy, are any of the classic writers superior, in the eloquence of mourning, to David's pathetic elegy on his beloved Jonathan ; to his most passionate and inconsolable moan over the lovely but unhappy Absalom; or to that melodious wo, which warbles and bleeds, in every line of Jeremiah's Lamentations ?

Are we admirers of Antiquity ?-Here we are led back, beyond the universal deluge, and far beyond the date of any other annals. We are introduced to the earliest inhabitants of the earth. We take a view of mankind in their undisguised primitive plainness, when the days of their life were but little short of a thousand years. We are brought acquainted with the origin of nations ; with the creation of the world ; and with the birth of time itself.

Are we delighted with vast achievements !--Where is any thing comparable to the miracles in Egypt, and the wonders in the field of Zoan ? to the memoirs of the Israelites passing through the depths of the gea; sojourning amidst the inhospitable deserts ; and conquering the kingdom of Canaan ? Here we behold the fundamental laws of the universe, sometimes suspended, sometimes reversed ; and not only the current of Jordan, but the course of nature controlled.

If we want maxims of wisdom, or have a taste for the laconic style,how copiously may our wants be supplied, and how delicately our taste gratified! especially in the book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and some of the minor prophets. Here are the most sage lessons of instruction adapted.

« AnteriorContinuar »