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Julius Caesar with the means of destroying public liberty, and enslaving his country. It was the prodigious wealth which the proscriptions of the richest citizens of Rome had placed at his disposal, that enabled Octavius to raise the Roman empire on the wrecks of the republic. It was, also, merely by lavishing upon the legions, Praetorian bands, and Barbarians, (by whose seditions and continual incursions their power was constantly menaced,) the produce of the proscriptions, murder and spoliation of the richest individuals of Rome and the empire, that his successors maintained themselves on the imperial throne. As long as mere private persons, whom their riches assimilated to kings, were smarting under the extortion of the emperors, the people felt no abhorrence for their execrable crimes: but as soon as the increasing load of taxes began to fall heavy upon themselves, the nation revolted against their oppressors; and from that instant the empire rapidly declined, and shortly became the prey of the Barbarians.”
Lastly, it was with the sole view to possess themselves of the wealth of which the Romans had stripped the then known world, that the barbarous nations which surrounded the empire from the north to the east, commenced their harassing incursions, and contended for its wrecks.
Thus wealth, among the nations of antiquity, was alike the object of individual and public ambition, and the principal cause of the elevation and grandeur, and of the decline and utter ruin of states.
* See the preceding note.
The people of the middle age exhibited the same spectacle, and experienced the same fate. “ The country of the Scythians being almost un“ cultivated,” says Montesquieu, “ its inhabitants “ were subject to frequent famines: they partly sub“sisted upon their trade with the Romans, who used “ to bring them provisions from the provinces bor“ dering on the Danube: the Barbarians gave them “ in return the commodities they had gained by pil“ lage, the prisoners they had made, and the gold “ and silver they had been paid to keep the peace : “ but when the Romans became unable to grant them “ tributes sufficient for their maintenance, the Scy“ thians were forced to seek for settlements.”* Wherever they settled, they possessed themselves of a more or less considerable portion of land, of slaves, and moveable wealth; and although these riches must have appeared immense comparatively to their former poverty, they yet failed to produce upon them any of the effects which they had produced upon the nations of antiquity. The Barbarians underwent none of the vicissitudes which those nations had experienced. They preserved their spirit, their manners, their character, and their propensity to robbery and devastation. “ To have no one to rob was to “ them a state of slavery.”-h. • When they had no more enemies to fight, no more booty to share, no more wealth to wrest by conquest
* Montesquieu, Grandeur et Decadence des Romains. + Eterim hoc illis servitus est nullos habere quos depraedanster. Libanius.
from strangers, they warred with themselves to strip each other; and hurried along by their insatiable cupidity, they paid no respect either to the identity of origin, to the ties of blood, to political connections, or even to social and domestic relations. Fathers, children, and brothers, kings and barons, lords and vassals, all fought against each other to increase their riches by the misery and poverty of their enemies : but their culpable expectations were deceived. Their general and continued hostilities, instead of enriching them, created every where wretchedness and indigence; harbingers of the revolution which caused the destruction of the feudal government. a
The barrenness of the soil introduced, among the Arabs, a maxim in which they have confided, and which they have practised ever since the most remote times : they suppose that, by the division of the earth, the rich and fertile climates have been assigned to other branches of the human race; and that the posterity of the proscribed Ismaël, from whom they are descended, may recover, by fraud or violence, that portion of his inheritance of which he has been unjustly deprived. According to Pliny, the Arabs are equally addicted to theft and commerce; the caravans which journey across the desert, must either ransom themselves, or submit to be pillaged : and ever since the remote times of Job and Sesostris, their neighbours have been the victims of their rapacity.*
Mahomet took advantage of this rapacious dispo.
* Diodorus Siculus, vol. i. Book 1.
sition, and, by methodizing it, united all the Arabs under the banners of religion and plunder. He set apart the fifth of the gold and silver, prisoners, cattle, and moveables, for pious uses; the rest was divided in equal portions among the soldiers who had contributed to the victory and those who were left to guard the camp. The share of those who had fallen in battle, was given to their widows and orphans. The first caliphs who succeeded Mahomet, took no more from the public revenue than was requisite to supply their wants, which were extremely moderate; the remainder was scrupulously applied to the salutary work of spiritual and temporal conquests. The Abassides impoverished themselves by the multitude of their wants, and their neglect of economy. Instead of taking ambition for their guide, as the first caliphs had done, their leisure, their affections, and the faculties of their minds, were solely engrossed with the pomp of feasts and pleasures. The rewards due to valour were dissipated by women and eunuchs; and the royal camp was incumbered with the luxury of the palace. The same vices spread among their subjects; and from that instant their tottering empire, dismembered and disunited, left nothing in their impoverished hands but the barren deposit of the laws and religion of Mahomet, This hasty sketch of the passion for wealth among the nations of antiquity and the middle age, of the course it followed, and the share it had in their elevation and decline, leaves no doubt respecting the power and empire which it exercised over them. Notwithstanding the high colouring employed by historians. To
misled or prepossessed by their splendid exploits, to disguise it under the veil of their love of country, glory, or religion, truth pierces every where; the insatiable thirst for riches betrays itself in all their private actions and public concerns; and the illusions of the historian, and the fascinating powers of the orator, are both dispelled by the torch of history. Modern nations are not less addicted to the passion for wealth, than the nations of antiquity and the middle age : but they have been more enlightened, or more fortunate in the direction which they have given to that passion; and their wisdom or good fortune has not only guarded them against the perils and calamities attached to riches, but has also made them sensible of the unforeseen, incakeulable, and unbounded benefit, which wealth is capable of affording *. Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Florence, which first
* I fear, the moderns are little entitled to this compliment. Neither nations nor individuals are content to grow rich by labour and industry, until they are precluded from becoming so by plunder and violence. This is sufficiently proved by the behaviour of all European nations to the natives of the East and West Indies, and by the revival of slavery in its most edious form, wherever the inferiority of one race rendered it safe for the other to exercise such an unjust dominion. The secret partisans of the Slave-trade are still too numerous, even in the country whose laws have acknowledged its barbarity, and pronounced it felony, to allow any shouts of triumph or account of the improved dispositions of mankind with regard to their desire of riches. The immutability of human nature, in this respect, is unfortunately too strongly confirmed by the conduct of the two most enlightened nations of Europe in our times: the English, some years ago in the East Indies, and the French all over the continent, and at this very hour, in Spain.—T.