« VorigeDoorgaan »
of some other nation. According to the idiom of the English language we use the phrase, to get by heart, which the Latins express by mandare memoriæ, to commit to memory; and recitare memoriter, to repeat by memory: but if you were to speak in Latin as you do in English, and say, gignere corde, you would be guilty of a gross barbarism. We should laugh at a Frenchman, who, speaking of one that came to an untimely end, should say, "he did not die of his own proper death;" but in French sa propre mort is equivalent to what we call in English a natural death. How ridiculous it would sound to us in English, if a Frenchman, hearing one calling out with a loud voice, should say, "he cries with his head full;" but so they express themselves in their own language: Crier a pleine téte, is, to cry with as loud a voice as your head can bear; and crier a tue tête, is to bawl so loud as to rend it. Languages differ very much in the use of the negative in Latin and English two negatives make an affirmative; in Greek, French, and Italian, they are still negative; as la scrittura non sa niente, ed insegna ogni cosa," writing knows nothing (Ital. does not know nothing), and yet teaches all things." It is very useful to compare the proverbial idioms of different languages. When we see how they have adopted different ideas to express the same sentiment, and come by so many different ways, some of them very wise and ingenious, to the same end, the prospects of the mind are greatly opened and enlarged. My meaning may be illustrated by a single instance; we say in English, to pass the time away; and gaming, or any other like diversion, is called pastime but in French they affix a moral idea to the same expression, and call it tuer le tems, to kill time; as if every vain and useless employment were a spe
cies of murder, against that which is most valuable in this world, and dies a natural death much sooner than we could wish, and after all will certainly rise up against us in judgment.
We commonly use the word barbarous to denote the cruel spirit of uncivilized and savage nations; but the term originally belonged to confusion of speech, or the unintelligible language of a strange people; and it is so applied in the Scriptures: If I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. barbarian, therefore, in the primitive sense of the word, is a person of a strange language: the term itself is derived from the word Babel, by a substitution, which is very frequent, of one liquid consonant for another; and it is remarkable that the word Babel, as a monument of the confusion which happened there, has passed into all languages : the Greeks have it in their βαρβαρος, βαμβαινω, for βαλβαινω, to stammer; whence the Latin barbarus, balbus, and balbutio; the French babiller; the English babble, babbler, &c.
ON THE USE OF HISTORY.
IN a former letter I have mentioned history as an amusement; but here I mean to recommend it as a science. To persons of a private station, it is not requisite but to every gentleman, who may be called
to an active and public life in the service of his country, it is absolutely necessary. The higher his rank, the more necessary is this science: if he is a prince, he is under greater obligation to study history than any of his subjects.
History shews us the laws of different countries, and the manners of different ages; the principles on which empires have risen to power and greatness, and the errors by which they have declined and fallen into decay. It teaches us the fatal effects of intestine divisions, whether arising from the mercenary views of self-interest and ambition, or from visionary ideas of liberty and false principles of policy. These things are worth the consideration of Englishmen at all times, especially at present. I am sorry to say it of my countrymen, (who in the main are a sensible and generous people ;) but, they are factious by nature, and are unhappily encouraged to opposition by the present turn of their education. Those false ideas. of liberty, government, and power, of which we are now reaping the fruits, have been propagated among them for many years past, and with as much assiduity as if the salvation of the people had depended upon them. From the doctrines of Algernon Sydney and Mr. Locke, which have so long been held in admiration, rebellion hath grown up as naturally as thorns and thistles spring from their proper seeds. These doctrines were exploded long ago by an able writer, whose work being unpopular at the time of its publication, when parties ran very high in this country, hath fallen into oblivion. History may in good measure dispel this charm, by teaching you, that there never was an instance of any government arising from compact and the general consent of the people, from whence our theorists suppose all governments
to have been derived. The idea is an absurdity; because kings, as the fathers of families, were prior to their subjects. All the great kingdoms of the earth either came by descent, or were gained by conquest; and he who gave the victory gave the kingdom. Mr. Selden was of opinion, that there is actually no power upon earth but the power of the sword. So I think; but then I must have leave to add, that this power of the sword belongs properly to him who created the iron of it; and that the sword held by government for the taking away of any man's life, is held by his commission; the reason of which is plain enough, if this were a place to insist upon it.
History will shew you the comparative inconveniences of the different sorts of governments; that popular governments, especially the aristocratic, are the most expensive and tyrannical. That when liberty is rampant, and power gets into the hands of those, who by nature or law have no right to it, it must be bought out of them again, with the money of those who neither share the power nor partake of the plunder of their country. If you look at home, you will discover that the English government hath become more venal, expensive, and distressed, in proportion as it hath approached nearer to the popular form, by encroachments upon the old legal rights of the crown; which, as Lord Lyttelton has well observed in his History of Henry II. are the security of the people against the oppression of the nobility. The system of venality was established by Sir Robert Walpole, who openly professed that he had set a price upon every man's conscience, and turned all public business into a scramble.
When you read of wars, you will meet with examples of successful foresights, and fatal oversights;
what opportunities have been lost for want of expedition and resolution; in particular, that no plots and rebellions were ever suppressed, but by unexpected and vigorous exertions in the beginning; and that no such exertions can well be made where the power is lodged in too many hands, and measures are consequently slow and fluctuating; and what is still worse, the secrets of the state are bandied about so publicly in debate, that they are always known to the enemy, who have warning to direct their own motions, so as to defeat every design that is formed against them. Secrecy is the wisdom of power; and without it, all power is like a body without a soul.
You will see how the talents of great commanders have wrought wonders when occasion required. Such was the constructing of a wooden bridge over the Rhine by Julius Cæsar, for the passage of his troops into Germany. And such was the conduct of Xenophon, a scholar and a soldier like Julius Cæsar, when he led his Greeks safe back through a vast tract of the enemies country, after Cyrus, who had engaged them in his service, was defeated and slain. I have heard the following anecdote of Wolfe, who was a military genius as well as a man of courage; that he was shewing some general officers how expert his men were at a new mode of attacking and retreating upon hills; and when he stept up to one of the officers after the performance, and asked him what he thought of it; I think, said he, I see something here of the history of the Carduchi, who harassed Xenophon, and hung upon his rear in his retreat over the mountains. You are right, said Wolfe; I had it from thence; and I see you are a man of reading; but our friends there are surprised at what I have shewn them, because they have read nothing.