Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

as conclusive as some philosophers have endeavoured to believe ; and may they not be accounted for by peculiar circumstances, foreign to the agricultural system?

The distinction of the Egyptians in casts; the division of lands among these casts; the influence of political, religious, and civil institutions upon each cast; their manner of cultivating a soil rendered productive beyond measure by the overflowing of the Nile ;* the temperance so natural to the people of the South, and so imperiously prescribed to the inhabitants of Egypt; and, above all, the immense extent of their passive trade with the nations of Africa, Hindostan, Arabia, and Asia; all these causes, unconnected with agriculture, explain the phenomenon of the wealth and population of Egypt, but cannot be applied to the people of the North, who live in a climate less favoured by nature, under different constitutions and laws; who are forced, or accustomed to a great consumption; and who would find but few resources in their agriculture, were it even encouraged by the pas sive trade of other nations.

The Chinese, of whom we have so many various accounts, are yet too little known to allow us to argue with any degree of certainty respecting their innumerable population, and the prodigies of their agriculture, their wealth, and their civilization. The clouds in which their mysterious opulence is enveloped, are rendered still more impenetrable by the contradictory narratives of travellers, and leave us no means to re-ascend from effects to causes, and to obtain cer. tain and positive results. There is no doubt that the Chinese honour agriculture; and it is, perhaps, to their gratitude for an art productive of food and raw materials for commerce and industry, that the honours which they pay to it must be ascribed. But does this art owe its progress to its own impulse! May not the political and civil institutions of China, the extraordinary fertility of her climate," the innumei rable channels by which her vast empire is intersected and supplied with an immense quantity of fish,t the variety of the productions of her territory, which is equal in extent to the whole of Europe ; and, lastly, her passive trade with all the nations of the world ; may not these circumstances have as great a share, as agriculture, in whatever travellers relate of the wealth and population of China ? The problem has not yet been resolved, and is perhaps incapable of being resolved in the present state of our knowledge of the

* The soil requires no other expence than the seed : some sorts of grain, like doura and millet, give an incredibly multiplied produce. De Paw, sur les Chinois et les Egyptiens,

1

* If China contains an immense population, it is because rice is the only food of the multitude; in several provinces it yields annually three abundant barvests. The soil wants no rest in China, and its produce is frequently hundredfuld. Le Commerce et le Gouvernement, par Condillac. Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en général, par Cantillon.

t. It is even possible that the oleaginous parts of fish are more productive of the matter which serves for generation. This circumstance would account for the immense population of Japan and China, where fish is almost the sole food. Montesquieu, Esprit des Lois, book xxii, chap. 13.

[ocr errors]

economical system of the Chinese. It would therefore be the height of imprudence to ground upon the Chinese system of political economy that of nations dwelling in a temperature less prodigal of its gifts, and in a climate which, as has been observed by one of the most celebrated French philosophers, produces nothing spontaneously but forests, stones, and wild fruits. *

If North America be indebted to her agriculture for the rapid increase of her population and riches, her agriculture owes its growth and success to the capitals and industry of Europe ; to these she owes the sale of her produce, its abundance, and wer prosperity. Had she been confined to agriculture, unconnected with the Old World and without

any foreign trade, she would have advanced less rapidly on the road to wealth ; and instead of being quoted as an instance of the power of the agricultural system, she would afford a memorable example of its inconsiderable influence upon the grandeur and destiny of nations.t

1 Ancient Egypt, China, and North America, are therefore but equivocal and suspicious evidences of the power of agriculture and its productiveness of wealth,

* Voltaire, Essai sur les Maurs, vol. i. page 302. Edition of

3785.

† " In our North-American colonies, the plantations have constantly followed either the sea-coast or the banks of the navigable

rivers, and have scarcely any where extended themselves to aay * considerable distance from both."--Adam Smith'. Wealth of Nia tions; Eleventh Edition, London, 1805, vel, i, book i. chap. 3. page 31.

But were it even true that the agricultural system could by itself raise a numerous, rich, and Hourishing population, it would not be productive of any great moral and political virtues, of the energy, public spirit, and eminent qualities which form great nations, render mankind illustrious, and honour humanity.

The industrious and commercial classes being necessarily limited to the lowest rate of wages, would be discouraged and degraded; destitute of talents, activity, and energy, and confined to mechanical trades, they never could ascend to the brilliant conception of the liberal arts ; to those inspirations of genius which open new sources to the prosperity, opulence, and splendour of nations, mitigate human misery, render life supportable, and produce ages of glory and grandeur.

Possessing hereditary comforts or riches; certain of their concomitant honours, distinctions, and considerations; without rivals and competitors; and allured by none but sensual pleasures, the agricultural classes would be little disposed to devote themselves to the painful and laborious toils attendant on the study of sciences, and on the cultivation of the arts of peace and war, or their efforts would be limited to the first starts of genius, and they afterwards would drag along on the same road through the duration of ages. Such is the state of the inhabitants of China and India : it is the unavoidable consequence of the preference which these two countries have given to agriculture over industry and commerce.

The views, the hopes, the ambition of every one would be turned to agriculture, as the only lucrative,

honourable, and honoured profession ; the people would be divided into two classes, one domineering, and the other servile; and the government set over both, not finding any support in the interniediate classes, would be forced to be the tool of the rich, and the agent or accomplice of their tyranny.

A constitution so vicious and so opposite to the progress of civilization, would be still more deplorable and prejudicial with regard to its foreign relations, and afford little or no security to the national independence and glory.

Whence indeed could it derive its political force, its means of resistance and attack, of power and grandeur ?

The agricultural class forming more than threefourths of the people, and being the only rich and flourishing class, could not be removed even for a moment from their agricultural labours, without this essential branch of labour being a sufferer by their absence; their produce would be diminished, and this diminution would inflict a fatal blow to public wealth and national power.

The industrious and commercial class might more conveniently be called out for the service of the state, because the defalcation of their produce would only occasion the deprivation of enjoyments, whi is always easily borne. But this class would be too inconsiderable to afford any great assistance ; at the utmost they would form a sixth of the population, and leave but a very small number of defenders that could never be formidable to the enemies of the state.

« ForrigeFortsett »