« PreviousContinue »
Arm canctas nationes et urbes po
his et consociata republica forma, laudari facilius quam evenire; wel si evenit, haud
diuturna esse potest.
** - - If we consider the nature of civil government, we shall find that in all nations the supreme authority is vested in the people, or the nobles, or a single ruler. A
constitution, compounded of these three simple
forms, may in theory be beautiful,
but can never exist in fact; or, if it should, it will be but of short duration. ;
* * *
- * * * * * p . . IN these words Tacitus has ex- pressed his celebrated opinions on • the best form of government for a state. He acknowledges the excellence of a system, in which the three great simple modes of polity ... should be preserved by a judicious selection and harmonious combination of their constituent advan
When Tacitus says, that a form of government, composed of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, is more easily to be praised than anticipated, he very probably had reference to the writings of statesmen and philosophers, by whom this scheme had been discussed and commended. He also plainly in
tages. ... Such a system he decidedly commends, but apparently regrets its probable impracticability, and declares that, if it were practi
timates, that he did not think that the combination of the original principles had, in any government, been accurately ascertained and
suitably established. A man, like Tacitus, of vigorous understanding and practical views, would not easily be reconciled to a visionary excellence of policy, nor would he be disposed to praise a system, which, though in theory it might partake of the simple schemes of political economy, violated in its operation all the feelings, habits, and doctrines of human nature ; still less would such a statesman extol any establishment, which found the means of its preservations in the forgetfulness or destruction of whatever renders life pleasant and comfortable to the great majority of the commonwealth.
That Tacitus was a man of these practical notions and principles of expediency, is easily discovered by a perusal of his political and moral maxims and reflections. They have no fancy or frenzy. He very * * * * *
cable, it could not be lasting. ... These are the sentiments of a profound historian on a subject of - real difficulty and extensive im... portance. They may well occupy ... our thoughts for a few moments, ... for the subject is full of “high matter”; and, as connected with the mighty revolutions of the old ,---, world in the present age, or with ... the established constitutions of our to so own country, it may originate sen- a timents of regret or exultations of gratitude. In the present specu• lation, however, I shall not enter - into a nice investigation of the excellence of the system recommen- ded by the historian ; but I propose, as a subject of literary discussion, to reconcile the implied tlissent of Tacitus from the opio: ions of Polybius, fortified by: Machiavel, on the subject of the Spartan constitution founded by
seldom indulges in speculation, and he never relaxes into falseness
of conclusion from the violence of .
passion or the obstinacy of prejudice. Human nature he studied in all its windings and aberrations. He traced the contortions of hypocrisy in the gloomy mind of Tiberius; he examined the gapish idiocy of the drowsy Claudius, and displayed the feeble counsels and the fluctuating conduct of the aged Galba. For this deep knowledge of the human mind, and the necessary practical results, he was not more indebted to the age, which furnished such materials of serious reflection, than to his education and political advantages. He studied law and eloquence under Aper and Secundus, celeberrima tum trigenia fori ; he married the daughter of Agricola, and by connexion, as well as sympathy, being attached to his father-in-law, he profited from the plans, the counsels, and directions of the illustrious conqueror of Britain. By his political career he was partly fitted for an historian and statesman, as besides what he himself declares, dignitatem nostram a Wesfasiano inchoatam, a Tito auctam, a Domitiano long, is firovectam, he also enjoyed the consulate under Nerva, and was honoured with the confidence of Trajan, ofttimus & felicissimus Princeño.
Among the ancient historians and philosophers, whose opinions on the mixture of the three simple forms of government into one harmonious system have reached us, Polybius is highly distinguished. From a fragment of his 6th book, as quoted by Swift, in “The contests and dissensions between the nobles and commons in Athens and Rome,” his sentiments may be collected. “Polybius tells us, the best government is that, which
ián model on the habits, intercourse, and general relations of the people. From the previous character of Tacitus, as a practical politician, it is evident he must have censured, rather than applauded the singular system of the Spartan legislator. He could not approve of a political -plan, which made a whole community barbarous, ignorant, miserable, and proud; and forced the citizens to exist without the -elegant refinements or even the comfortable accommodations of society. In Sparta the institutions and laws were, like those in Crete, most severe, and are thus characterised by Maternus in the Dial. de Orat. Quarum civitatum severissima discifulina et severissimae leges traduntur. In none of the writings of Tacitus does he express any opinion of the policy of Lycurgus, except what may be gathered from the following passage in Ann. 3. 26. He firimo (leges) rudibus Hominum animis, simsilices erant. Marimequefama celebravit Cretensium, quas Minos ; Shartamorum Quas Lycurgus ; ac moa Atheniensibus quaaesitiones jam et filures So-lon frescrifisit. “ Law in its origin was like the manners of the age, plain and simple. Of the several political constitutionsknown in the world, that of Crete established by Minos, that of Sparta by Lycurgus, and that of Athens by Solon, have been chiefly celebrated. In the latter, however, we see simplicity giving way to complication and refinement.” From this passage it cannot be inferred, that Tacitus was particularly averse or attached to the constitution of either legislator, though perhaps a nice reader of Latin might receive from the original an impression more unfavourable to the Spartan establishment, than
is given by the weak and dilated translation of Murphy. It is undeniably true, that Lycurgus mixed the three simple forms into one establishment. It was not indeed perfect. The preservation of the balance of power received no adequate provision. The senate was too powerful; the kings and the Ephori were too weak alone, and the legislator therefore contrived, by the solemnities of religion and the obligation of monthly oaths, to connect the kings and the ephoriin alliance; for the former swore to reverence and observe the constitution and laws of Sparta, and the latter, in their own name and as representatives of the people, swore
to obey the kings, as rulers, judges, and generals, and to preserve in
hereditary splendour the honours and glory of the descendants of Hercules. By these means, but above all by the civil and municipal regulations relative to strangers, marriage, commerce, agriculture, slaves, &c. &c. Lycurgus restrained his community in tranquillity, gained renown for himself, and preserved the hereditary honours of the illustrious race of Hercules for eight hundred years. But the precincts of Sparta never inclosed the habitation of happiness. Everything was forced,batbarous, and unnatural. Property was violated under the connivance of law, and adultery was sanctioned as the perfection of marriage. The slaves were forced to intoxication for an example to the young Spartans, and their murder was suffered for the incitement of courage and the acquisition of military skill. Study the nature of the Spartan ordinances, read the history of Lycurgus in Plutarch, and you will be astonished at the adoption and continuance of a system, which opposed all the feelings of our common nature, and swept away in its terrible progress all the pardonable prejudices, the amiable sentiments, and the honourable principles of civil life, merely to make giants of the men and Amazons of the women....who should consider war, as the definite object of society, and peace, as the improveable prelude of war. As Polybius among the ancients, to Machiavel among the moderns, has considered the Spartan constitution as a happy combination of tnomarchy, aristocracy, and demoscracy. In C. 2, B. 2, of his discourses on the first decade of Livy, this illustrious Italian, after observing that prudent legislators have endeavoured in their political systemstounite the three simple prinaciples, and consequently to avoid the defects of each, proceeds to remark, tra quelli che hanno fier simili •costituzioni meritato fin laude 2 Li•curgo, il quale ordino in modo le sue •leggi in Sharta, che dando le farte sue aire, agli ottimati, e al flofolo, fece uno stato, the durd flio che otto-cento anni, con summa laude sua, e guiete di quella città. Here the immortal founder of modern poliiticks expressly recognises the diwision of powers in the system of Lycurgus, which had been before extolled by Polybius ; but it may be observed, that his praise is confined to the high renown, which the legislator acquired, to the duration of the scheme, and the tranquillity of Sparta. He does not praise the civil liberty of the citizens, for it did not exist ; he does not honour the international policy, for it was full of intrigue, ambition, and war. A civil community ought to have a social relation to other states. It tought to delight in the interchange of such kind offices as its situation will allow, such as mediation in war, commercial intercourse, and
". every friendly political arrangement. It ought, above all, never to thwart the progress of internal civility ; never to stop the increase of social relations and institutions; and never to prohibit the introduction and diffusion of the blessings of peace, commerce, letters, and arts. But in Sparta all intercourse with strangers and all foreign travel were forbidden ; there was no trade, and no coin, but ponderous pieces of iron ; agriculture was considered an ignominious employment, and was expressly confined to the slaves; the mechanick institutions were despised; literature was unknown to these “ museless and unbookish” barbarians ; their sole delight was in arms, for war was the study of the men, and warlike exercises the play games of the children. A state, thus insulated from the world, except by the continual disturbances which it excited in other communities, and by the ravage of its arms, which it terribly diffused, might well subsist for -eight hundred years; for foreign enemies could make no impression on the city from without, and luxury and wealth could spread no refine-ments within. Sparta therefore existed in civilized barbarism among the Grecian States, not much supeaiour to the institutions of the Be-doweens in the African deserts at the present day ; these marauders appear on the horizontal sands ; they soon cry havock, and spread death and desolation in every village; and when fury is satisfied, they sullenly retire with their spoil to the depth of solitude, meditating new pillage, and anticipating new ene-mies to conquer. In giving this relation of the Spartan Commonwealth, I have been guided by no prejudice. No writer will deny to the passive pu
pils of Lycurgus the virtues of patience, fortitude, heroism, magnanimity, and others of a similar nature. But all these flourish, like palm trees, in a savage community, and when unaccompanied by those qualities or virtues, which exist in a state of refinement, are decisive evidences of a commonwealth barbarous, warlike,and miserable. ... As, therefore, Polybius and Machiavel have considered the constitution of Sparta, as a testimonial of the actual union of the advantages of the simple forms of government into one system, and as Tacitus virtually differs from this opinion, by insinuating, that such an union has never existed, I cannot otherwise reconcile these great authorities, * by supposing that the former had reference principally to the constitution itself, and that the latter deduced its nature from the misery of the people, and disregarded the mere form of the institution. Both were right in their several opinions, and the conclusion must be, that the system of Lycurgus, fortified by the code of civil laws
ally an example of the combination
of the original forms of government, that it lasted long and insured tranquillity, but that it was not formed to advance the comforts,the pleasures, and the refinements of society,and that therefore it did not deserve the commendation of Tacitus. This hypothesis may be praised as more ingenious, than exact, and the discussion may be considered, as more pleasant, than important. But I have never seen any notice of the difference between the historians I have mentioned, and therefore if my conjectures are false, they may easily be pardoned. With regard to the importance of the subject, different readers may form different opinions, but I am disposed to believe that it is always a matter of much concern to reconcile the jarring sentiments of great minds on interesting topicks, for it is surely unpleasant to observe the mighty guides of the world opposed to each other, because their dissension enfeebles their power, while their union gives energy to truth and authority to reason.
and municipal regulations, was re- QUINTILIAN. BIOGRAPHY. o
LIFE OF RICHARD BENTLEY, D. D. o Late Regius Professor of Divinity, and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Eng. [Continued from page 348.]