« AnteriorContinuar »
English colonies, said Edward Gibbon Wakefield as late as 1848, “which would get slaves to-morrow if we would let them ;"* and he was speaking not only of old colonies trained in slavery and raised upon the products of it, but likewise of new colonies started by freemen, and which ought, one would think, to wish to contain freemen only. But Wakefield knew what he was saying; he was a careful observer of rough societies, and he had watched the minds of men in them. He had seen that leisure is the great need of early societies, and slaves only can give men leisure. All freemen in new countries must be pretty equal : every one has labor and every one has land; capital, at least in agricultural countries (for pastoral countries are very different), is of little use, - it cannot hire labor, the laborers go and work for themselves. There is a story often told of a great English capitalist who went out to Australia with a ship-load of laborers and a carriage; his plan was, that the laborers should build a house for him and that he would keep his carriage, just as in England: but (so the story goes) he had to try to live in his carriage, for the laborers left him and went away to work for themselves.
In such countries there can be few gentlemen and no ladies. Refinement is only possible when leisure is possible, and slavery first makes it possible: it creates a set of persons born to work that others may not work, and not to think in order that others may think. The sort of originality which slavery gives is of the first practical advantage in early communities; and the repose it gives is a great artistic advantage when they come to be described in history. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could not have had the steady calm which marks them, if they had themselves been teased and hurried about their flocks and herds. Refinement of feeling and repose of appearance have indeed no market value in the early bidding of nations; they do not tend to secure themselves a long future, or any future; but originality in war does, and slave-owning nations, having time to think, are likely to be more shrewd in policy and more crafty in strategy.
*“View of the Art of Colonization," Letter xlv.
No doubt this momentary gain is bought at a ruinous after-cost :. when other sources of leisure become possible the one use of slavery is past, but all its evils remain and even grow worse.
“Retail” slavery — the slavery in which a master owns a few slaves, whom he well knows and daily sees - is not at all an intolerable state: the slaves of Abraham had no doubt a fair life, as things went in that day. But “wholesale" slavery - where men are but one of the investments of large capital, and where a great owner, so far from knowing each slave, can hardly tell how many gangs of them he works - is an abominable state; this is the slavery which has made the name revolting to the best minds, and has nearly rooted the thing out of the best of the world. There is no out-of-the-way marvel in this: the whole history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were invaluable at first and deadly afterwards. Progress would not have been the rarity it is if the early food had not been the late poison. A full examination of these provisional institutions would need half a volume, and would be out of place and useless here; venerable oligarchy, august monarchy, are two that would alone need large chapters : but the sole point here necessary is, to say that such preliminary forms and feelings at first often bring many graces and many refinements, and often tend to secure them by the preservative military virtue.
There are cases in which some step in intellectual progress gives an early society some gain in war; more obvious cases are, when some kind of moral quality gives some such gain. War both needs and generates certain virtues ; not the highest, but what may be called the preliminary virtues, as valor, veracity, the spirit of obedience, the habit of discipline. Any of these and of others like them, when possessed
VOL. IV. - 31
by a nation, and no matter how generated, will give them a military advantage, and make them more likely to stay in the race of nations. The Romans probably had as much of these efficacious virtues as any race of the ancient world,- perhaps as much as any race in the modern world too; and the success of the nations which possess these martial virtues has been the great means by which their continuance has been secured in the world, and the destruction of the opposite vices insured also. Conquest is the missionary of valor, and the hard impact of military virtues beats meanness out of the world.
In the last century it would have sounded strange to speak, as I am going to speak, of the military advantage of religion; such an idea would have been opposed to ruling prejudices, and would hardly have escaped philosophical ridicule : but the notion is but a commonplace in our day, for a man of genius has made it his own. Mr. Carlyle's books are deformed by phrases like “infinities” and “verities,” and altogether are full of faults which attract the very young and deter all that are older; in spite of his great genius, after a long life of writing, it is a question still whether even a single work of his can take a lasting place in high literature; there is a want of sanity in their manner which throws a suspicion on their substance (though it is often profound), and he brandishes one or two fallacies, of which he has himself a high notion but which plain people will always detect and deride : but whatever may be the fate of his fame, Mr. Carlyle has taught the present generation many lessons, and one of these is, that “Godfearing” armies are the best armies. Before his time people laughed at Cromwell's saying, “Trust in God and keep your powder dry ;” but we now know that the trust was of as much use as the powder, if not of more,- that high concentration of steady feeling makes men dare everything and do anything.
This subject would run to an infinite extent if any one were competent to handle it. Those kinds of morals and that kind of religion which tend to make the firmest and most effectual character are sure to prevail, all else being the same; and creeds or systems that conduce to a soft limp mind tend to perish, except some hard extrinsic force keep them alive. Thus Epicureanism never prospered at Rome, but Stoicism did: the stiff serious character of the great prevailing nation was attracted by what seemed a confirming creed, and deterred by what looked like a relaxing creed. The inspiriting doctrines fell upon the ardent character, and so confirmed its energy. Strong beliefs win strong men, and then make them stronger. Such is no doubt one cause why monotheism tends to prevail over polytheism : it produces a higher, steadier character, calmed and concentrated by a great single object; it is not confused by competing rites or distracted by miscellaneous deities. Polytheism is religion in commission, and it is weak accordingly. But it will be said, The Jews who were monotheist were conquered by the Romans who were polytheist: Yes, it must be answered, because the Romans had other gifts; they had a capacity for politics, a habit of discipline, and of these the Jews had not the least. The religious advantage was an advantage, but it was counterweighed.
No one should be surprised at the prominence given to war. We are dealing with early ages: nationmaking is the occupation of man in these ages, and it is war that makes nations. Nation-changing comes afterwards, and is mostly effected by peaceful revolution, though even then war too plays its part. The idea of an indestructible nation is a modern idea ; in early ages all nations were destructible, and the further we go back the more incessant was the work of destruction. The internal decoration of nations is a sort of secondary process, which succeeds when the main forces that create nations have principally done their work. We have here been concerned with the political scaffolding; it will be the task of other papers to trace the process of political finishing and building. The nicer play of finer forces may then require more pleasing thoughts than the fierce fights of early ages can ever suggest. It belongs to the idea of progress that beginnings can never seem attractive to those who live far on: the price of improvement is, that the unimproved will always look degraded.
But how far are the strongest nations really the best nations? how far is excellence in war a criterion of other excellence? I cannot answer this now fully, but three or four considerations are very plain. War, as I have said, nourishes the “preliminary” virtues, and this is almost as much as to say that there are virtues which it does not nourish. All which may be called “grace” as well as virtue it does not nourish: humanity, charity, a nice sense of the rights of others, it certainly does not foster. The insensibility to human suffering which is so striking a fact in the world as it stood when history first reveals it is doubtless due to the warlike origin of the old civilization: bred in war and nursed in war, it could not revolt from the things of war, and one of the principal of these is human pain. Since war has ceased to be the moving force in the world, men have become more tender one to another, and shrink from what they used to inflict without caring; and this not so much because men are improved (which may or may not be in various cases), but because they have no longer the daily habit of war, have no longer formed their notions upon war, and therefore are guided by thoughts and feelings which soldiers as such — soldiers educated simply by their trade - are too hard to understand.
Very like this is the contempt for physical weakness and for women which marks early society too: the non-combatant population is sure to fare ill during the ages of combat. But these defects too are cured or lessened: women have now marvelous