Monday, May 13, 2013

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

From the Vicar of Wakefield

Oliver Goldsmith, Chap. XIX, pg. 197

"The defcription of a perfon difcontented with the prefent government, and apprehenfive of the lofs of our liberties."

"...Liberty, Sir, liberty is the Briton's boast, and by all my coal mines in Cornwall, I reverence its guardians [political publications]."
   "Then it is to be hoped," cried I, "you reverence the king."
   "Yes," returned my entertainer, "when he does what we would have him; but if he goes on as he has done of late, I'll never trouble myself more with his matters. I say nothing. I think only. I could have directed some things better. I don't think there has been a sufficient number of advisors; he should advise with every person willing to give him advice, and then we should have things done in another manner."
   "I wish," cried I, "that such intruding advisers were fixed in the pillory. It should be the duty of honest men to assist the weaker side of our constitution, that sacred power that has for some years been every day declining, and losing its due share of influence in the state. But these ignorants still continue the cry of liberty, and if they have any weight basely throw it into the subsiding scale." 
   "How," cried one of the ladies, "do I live to see one so base, so sordid, as to be an enemy of liberty, and a defender of tyrants? Liberty, that sacred gift of heaven, that glorious privilege of Britons!"
"Can it be possible," cried our entertainer, "that there should be any found at present advocates for slavery? Any who are meanly giving up the privileges of Britons? Can any, Sir, be so abject?"
   "No, sir," replied I, "I am for liberty, that attribute of Gods! Glorious liberty! that theme of modern declamation. I would have all men kings. I would be a king myself We have all naturally an equal right to the throne; we are all originally equal. This is my opinion, and was once the opinion of a set of honest men who were called Levellers. They tried to to erect themselves into a community, where all should be equally free. But, alas! it would never answer; for there were some among them stronger, and some more cunning than others, and these became masters of the rest; for as sure as your groom rides your horses, because he is a cunninger animal than they, so surely will the animal that is cunninger or stronger than he, sit upon his shoulders in turn. Since then it is entailed upon humanity to submit, and some are born to command, and others to obey, the question is, as there must be be tyrants, whether it is better to have them in the same house with us, or in the same village, or still farther off, in the metropolis. Now, Sir, for my own part, as I naturally hate the face of the tyrant, the farther off he is removed from me the better pleased am I. The generality of mankind also are of my way of thinking, and unanimously created one king, whose election at once diminishes the number of tyrants, and puts tyranny at the greatest distance from the greatest number of people.
   Now those who were tyrants themselves before the election of one tyrant, are naturally averse to a power raised over them, and whole weight must ever lean heaviest on the subordinate orders. It is in the interest of the great, therefore, to diminish kingly power as much as possible, because whatever they take from it is naturally restored to themselves; and all they have to do in a state is to undermine a single tyrant, by which they resume their primaeval authority. Now a state may be so constitutionally circumstanced, its laws may be so disposed, and its men of opulence so minded, as all to conspire to carry on this business of undermining monarchy. If the circumstances of the state be such, for instance, as to favor the accumulation of wealth, and make the opulent still more rich, this will encrease their strength and their ambition. But an accumulation of wealth must necessarily be the consequence in a state when more riches flow in from external commerce, than arise from internal industry; for external commerce can only be managed to advantage by the rich, and they have also at the same time all the emoluments arising from internal industry; so that the rich, in such a state, have two sources of wealth, whereas the poor have but one. Thus wealth in all commercial states is found to accumulate, and such have hitherto in time become aristocratical. Besides this, the very laws of a country may contribute to the accumulation of wealth; as when those natural ties that bind the rich and the poor together are broken, and it is ordained that the rich shall only marry among each other; or when the learned are held unqualified to serve their country as counsellors merely from a defect of opulence, and wealth is thus made the object of a wise man's ambition; by these means I say, and such means as these, riches will accumulate. The possessor of accumulated wealth, when furnished with the necessaries and pleasures of life, can employ the superfluity of fortune only in purchasing power. That is differently speaking, in making dependants, in purchasing the liberty of the needy or the venal, of men who are willing to bear the mortification of contiguous tyranny for bread. Thus each very opulent man generally gathers round him a circle of the poorest of the people; and the polity abounding in accumulate wealth, may be compared to a Cartesian system, each orb with a vortex of its own. Those, however, who are willing to move in a great man's vortex, are only such as must be slaves, the rabble of mankind, whose souls and whose education are adapted to servitude, and who know nothing of liberty except the name. But there must still be a large number of the people without the sphere of the opulent man's influence, namely, that order of men which subsists between the very rich and the very rabble; those men who are possest of too large fortunes to submit to the neighboring man in power, and yet are too poor to set up for tyranny themselves. In this middle order of mankind are generally to be found all the arts, wisdom, and virtues of society.  This order alone is known to be the true preserver of freedom, and may be called the People.
   Now it may happen that this middle order of mankind may lose all its influence in a state, and its voice be in a manner drowned in that of the rabble; for if the fortune sufficient for qualifying a person at present to give his voice in state affairs, be ten times less than was judged sufficient upon forming the constitution, it is evident that greater numbers of the rabble will be introduced into the political system, and they ever moving in the vortex of the great, will follow where greatness shall direct. In such a state, therefore, all that the middle order has left, is to preserve the prerogative and privileges of the one principal tyrant with the most sacred circumspection. For he divides the power of the rich, and calls off the great from falling with tenfold weight on the middle order placed beneath them. The middle order may be compared to a town of which the opulent are forming a siege, and which the tyrant is is hastening to relieve. While the besiegers are in dread of the external enemy, it is but natural to offer the townsmen the most specious terms; to flatter them with sounds, and amuse them with privileges: but if they once defeat the tyrant, the walls of the town will be but a small defence to its inhabitants. What they may expect, may be seen by turning our eyes to Holland, Genoa, or Venice, where the laws govern the poor, and the rich govern the law. I am then for, and would die for, monarchy, sacred monarchy; for if there be anything sacred amongst men, it must be the the anointed sovereign of his people, and every diminution of his power in war, or in peace, is an infringement upon the real liberties of the subject. The sounds of liberty, patriotism, and Britons, have already done much, it is to be hoped that the true sons of freedom will prevent their ever doing more. I have known many of those bold champions of liberty in my time, yet do I not remember one that was not in his heart and in his family a tyrant."