Page images
[ocr errors]


their annual store.

Even after it is obtained, their tyranny is not at an end. If the price should fall,' the severest penalties,' he says, inflicted on any man who should endeavour to bring his corn to market; and he must submit to sell it, giving up his profit to the corporation, or let it spoil in his magazines. If he grinds it into flour, it is seized; and, should he attempt to export it, he runs the risk of being cashiered and ruined.' It sometines happens, that when a corporation has fixed the assize in its own district high, because the crop

is scanty, it buys its own provision, or part of it, in a neighbouring district, or of a great proprietor, at a rate below its own assize. It thus supplies the market, while, at the same time, it prohibits the growers within its district from carrying their produce to another. « The unfortunate holders,' to use the language of Mr Leckie, are thus obliged to sell at the price imposed on them.' Sometimes a corporation, after having given permission to the grower to sell his corn off, when, for some reason or another, it thinks proper to say it has enough, has called upon him two months after to furnish his quota, when the price has happened to rise, and obliged him to purchase corn for that purpose at 30 per cent. loss. It is not always, indeed, that the corporations confine themselves to a man's quota. Mr Leckie states an instance of a farmer, who had fifty quarters of wheat in his granary at a time when the supply was scanty, and the price high. The corporation, without asking any questions, broke open the doors, and carried the whole to its own magazine. The farmer appealed to the Tribunal of Patrimony. But what was the consequence? The proceeding of the corporation met with full approbation ; and it was only ordered to pay him at several months credit. Before these months expired, the members of the corporation, who are only elected for a year, went out of office ; and the new members refused to pay

the man his corn, as not being answerable for the deeds of their predecessors. The unfortunate sufferer appealed again to the Tribunal of Patrimony. What now was their decision ?

Why, that the corporation did right in refusing him payment. Thus was the farmer robbed of his corai, and of the expense of two lawsuits.

From this sketch, it is easy to infer the state to which agriculo ture is reduced in Sicily. No man who has any property to lose, will ever embark it in a business, in which he is liable to be robbed and plundered in the manner in which agriculture is ravaged in this beautiful island. The cultivators, in such a situation, can be none but needy wretchęs, to whom a bare subsistence is gain. The ground, for want of capital employed in the cultivation, must be prevented from exhibiting one tenth of its powers ; N 2


and wherever the culture is operose, it must be allowed to run entirely desolate. That island, accordingly, which was once the granary of Rome, is now comparatively a barren waste. One of the richest spots on the face of the earth is one of the most unproductive. A country combining, in a more wonderful degree than almost any other, the advantages of nature, ranks among the very last in its contributions to human existence, and to human happiness.

When we contemplate the manner in which both the internal and external traffic of Sicily is managed, we are almost tempted to conclude, that it had been the actual object of her rulers to discourage industry, nay, to prevent its existence. Had her regulations indeed been contrived, and, with some ingenuity, for this express purpose, they could hardly have been better adapted to the end in view. Yet no set of rulers in the world were ever actuated by such irrational and inhuman motives. The condition of Sicily, abject, deformed and wretched as it must be deemed, is the pure, natural, and únavoidable effect of periitting one order of the citizens to pursue their own interests, without any check or controul from the rest. The desolation and imbecility of this fertile and delightful country, is a grand and instructive example of the consequences which naturally flow from allowing the aristocracy of a country, under a monarchical head, to engross the power of the state, and to thrust the people from all share in the management of national affairs. It is not according to the laws of human nature, that the interests of


order of men will, through a series of years, be protected, where they have not in their own hands the power of protecting them. Wherever the joint affairs of a community are not managed by the joint influence, fairly compounded of all the orders of which it consists,—wherever the small number acquire the whole, or the greater part of the direction of the common interests, they are sure to draw towards themselves the advantages, and thrust upon the multitude the burdens of the social union, to the utmost of their power. Where they are favoured by circumstances, and enabled to proceed to a great extent, they disfigure society, and produce mischiefs which revolt the imagination of all who have been accustomed to a better order of things. Yet it is only in degree in which the cases differ, when it is the deformed aspect of Sicily that is presented to view, and when it is the spectacle of those states in which there is but a decided bias on the side of the aristocracy.

There is nothing, indeed, in political science which stands more in want of a philosophical investigation, than the influence of aristocracy in human society. So great a tendency has it to predominate, that, with the exception of those cases in which a military leader or chief swallows up the power both of aristocracy and people, there is perhaps no instance of a government, in the history of mankind, in which the power of the aristocracy did not exceed the proper limits, in which it was not more than a match for the power of the people, and enabled the rich and leading men to shift the burdens of the state from themselves upon the inferior orders. If any man doubts that this was the case in Athens, let him read, for ample conviction, the oration of Demosthenes adversus Leptinem. In fact, it is the influence of the people of Athens upon the public resolves of the state, in deciding in their assemblies the great questions of peace and war, of guilt or innocence--it is this to which we look, when we are struck with the power of the Athenian multitude. We never think of inquiring what means they possessed of protecting their interests against the opulent and powerful, or of compelling them to bear their just share of the public burdens. We do not consider, that when the people of Athens produced the most violent effects in the government, they were only tools in the hand of one party of leading men played off against the other.


But whatever opinion we may form with regard to the government of Athens, which cannot be sufficiently illustrated here, we presume there will be no doubt that, as a general fact, if not without exceptions, aristocracy prevails over the people in the composition of governments. It requires but little power of reflection on the mighty influence of property, and the natural dispersion and imbecility of the people, to see how deep a foundation is laid in the ordinary circumstances of society for the prevalence of aristocratical over popular interests. The natural bias of things in society, is towards the aggrandizement of the aristocracy. There is a perpetual impulse in this direction. This is the grand disturbing cause in the movements of the social machine. All the artificial helps of good government, are but so many contrivances to resist this natural tendency, and to aid the people in protecting themselves ; and all the helps which have ever yet been devised, have proved inadequate to the end proposed,

It is far from being virtuous, therefore, or wise, as many unthinking persons are too ready to suppose, to be perpetually on the watch to curb the power of the people, as perpetually tending to become exorbitant. The danger, in most cases, is all on the other side. The great problem of government is to find a counteracting force, equally steady and regular in its operations, to prevent those gradual changes in favour of aristocracy which the common state of things has so strong a tendency to produce. The people have no doubt the power of rising in tumult, and, when they are galled by oppression, or stimulated by faction, of annihilat

N 3


ing one set of nobles to make way for another. But what ad vantage do they ever derive from this ? No sooner have they dispersed to their occupations, which they must always speedily do, than the individuals, whoever they be, in whose hands the great shares of property and power remain, pursue the very same course which was pursued by their predecessors. The natural feelings of men impel them to be much more solicitous for their own interests, thán for the interests of others; and, being in a situation much more favourable than the people to render their efforts successful, they are always sure to prevail against them.

If we trace the advantages which the people have, in certain happy situations, as in our own country, for example, obtained, we shall always find that they have been owing to certain accidental and extraordinary circumstances, not to the habitual tendency of affairs, or the power of the people themselves. The people of this country were first elevated by the kings, who united with them against the nobles. They were next elevated by the nobles themselves, who united with them againit the kings. The first efforts placed the people in the situation which they held during the reigns of the Tudors. The second placed them in the situation which they attained at the revolution. If we examine, however, the course of affairs fince that period, we shall clearly discover, that they have proceeded in their usual course; and, notwithstanding that the helps provided for the people to protect their interests are, in our happy constitution, the strongest ever actually admitted in any government, all the changes which have taken place in the texture of our common affairs, have been in favour of the aristocratical interest. Our system of taxation, which is now so enormous a machine, decidedly, and, to a degree, infinitely greater than is generally supposed, favours the higher orders, and throws the mighty burden upon the middling and the lower. The composition of the Commons' House of Parliament has become, confessed-. ly, less dependent upon the voice of the people. The enormous jevenue of the government, which is chiefly taken from the pockets of the people, is chiefly returned into the pockets of the higher ranks, by whom so great a proportion of the lucrative places are engroffed. But we are running too far from the government of Sicily, where aristocratical abuses are carried to an excess disguiting to every mind. The subject is one, however; to which we shall often return. If a cure is ever to be found for the disease, it must be found in the improvement of the science of go

The people themfelves more frequently injure than amend. As the science of government advances, one favourable institution may be created alter another, till the important object be in some happy fituation accomplished. It is an object no less truly for the interest of the higher orders, than for that of the lower. How infinitely more exalted is the fituation of an English nobleman, than that of a Sicilian! How much for the interest has it been, of the higher orders in England, that their aggreslions were checked by the elevation of the people! And how unfortunate is it for the nobles of Sicily, that their natural, but unenlightened efforts for their own advantage, were allowed to proceed till they produced the institutions which now defolate their country! Whatever is for the interest of the whole, muit, by neceffity, be for the interest of those in whole hands the greatest shares of the national pofleflions and national honours are placed.



We have seen in what manner the influence of the Sicilian nobles is exerted in the general administration of their country. The manner in which it is exerted on their own territories, which extend to a third part of the kingdom, is no uninteresting consideration, In all the towns situated upon his own lands, the baron nominates the magistrates, or members of the corporations, and the civil and criminal judges within his fief. The Tribunal of Patrimony, however, in consequence of the business which it has to transact with the corporations, in superintending the taxes which they are bound to pay, has pretty generally assumed a right of confirming the choice of the baron. " Where the lord,' says Mr Leckie, ' has the absolute choice, the slavery of the peasant is complete.' Besides the right of nominating the magistrates and the judges, he reserved to himself the power of distraining at his own pleasure, in case of arrears or debts incurred to him on his estates. Among some reforms which the Marquis Caraccioli, a few years ago, when vic. roy of Sicily, vainly attempte ed, and lost his place for the attempt, he put an end to the power of distraining at the discretion of the baroni,--a practice which fortunately has not been resumed. The baron, however, still exercises the exclusive privilege of baking the bread which is sold in the markets over his whole territory. This privilege is annually sold to the best bidder; and no one can, either publicly or privately, sell bread, but the individual by whom the monopoly is purchased. As there is no competition, it is easy to conceive in what manner the market is supplied. The bread is not only bad, but unwholesome. But it is not enough to usurp the privie lege of baking the bread on his territory; the baron usurps that also of killing the meat, and assumes the monoploy of butchering for his vassals. This, too, is annually sold for the highest sum it will fetch, and is a monopoly not only against the purchaser of meat, but the vender of cattle ; for no one must sell his ox but to the baron's butcher. As the price at which the butchier must sell his meat is fixed in the contract, and two lean oxen,' says N 4


« PreviousContinue »