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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 connexions, 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.
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 disposition, 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.
* Diodorus Siculus, vol. i. Book I.
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, 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, incalculable, 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 odious 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 on 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.
attract our attention in modern history, turned their passion for wealth to labour, industry and commerce. Though they sometimes fought for the advantages of an exclusive commerce, yet their wars had less tendency to enrich them with the spoils of their enemies, than to remove competitors and rivals, and to enjoy a monopoly, of which the ignorance of the times magnified the benefits, and kept the vices and inconveniencies out of sight.
It was only in labour, manufactures, and commerce, that the Hanseatic towns and the cities of Spain, France, and Germany, when they escaped from feudal depredations, sought for means to enrich themselves : the object of their league was merely a system of defence contrived for the interest of the confederates, and inoffensive in every other respect. History accuses them neither of violence nor of usurpation.
Though the Portuguese and Spaniards, who first sailed beyond the Cape of Good Hope, and found a new world, shewed themselves on the outset as conquerors in the countries which they discovered though they carried thither the spirit of rapine and conquest which was still predominant in Europe, and stripped the vanquished of their manufactured and agricultural produce ; the impossibility of turning this produce to advantage, without exchanging it for other commodities, subjected them to the law of competition, which, as it excludes every idea of force and violence, is intimately allied to notions of justice and equality, and connects all men by the need in which they stand of each other.
This barter, exchange, or commerce, which was become the basis of the connection of the European nations with each other, exercised also a favourable influence over their relations with the nations of Hindostan and America. In vain do force and violence still attempt to keep them in subjection, and to maintain an odious monopoly in those two portions of the globe. Modern nations have no solid and durable means to enrich themselves, but by labour, by the developement and improvement of their faculties, by the economy and rapid circulation of their produce, and by its wise application, distribution, and consumption. From Kamtschatka to the Pillars of Hercules, from the Elbe to the Ionian Sea, labour is the power which distributes wealth, and whose favours all nations implore; and it is particularly worthy of remark, that this wealth, far from occasioning the destruction or decline of opulent nations, has proved the firmest support of their prosperity, power, and grandeur. Whenever particular causes have dried up or diminished the source and abundance of this wealth, nations have declined in consideration, grandeur, and power, in the ratio of their impoverishment. Venice, Genoa, Florence, the Hanseatic Towns, and even Holland, lost their preponderance, or political influence, only when their commerce, the principal source of their riches, declined, and, taking a different road, went to enrich nations possessed of a more extensive territory and a larger population.