Page images
PDF
EPUB

like a handsome defiance of a misfortune; as if we should say, you are somewhat troublesome, but I shall conquer you hereafter. Thus a man makes an honourable exit, if he does nothing farther.

But Despair makes a despicable figure, and descends from a mean origin. It is the offspring of fear, of laziness, and impatience. It argues a defect of spirits and resolution, and sometimes of honesty too. After all, the exercise of this

passion is so troublesome, that methinks nothing but dint of evidence and demonstration should force it upon us.

I would not despair, unless I knew the irrevocable decree was past; unless I saw iny misfortune recorded in the book of fate, and signed and sealed by necessity. Indeed where the act is unmanly, or the expectation immoral, or contradictory to the attributes of God, we ought to drop our hopes, or rather never to entertain theni. And therefore I would neither hope to play the fool or the knave, or be immoral; but when the object is defensible and fair, I would not quit my hold as long as it was within the reach of possibility.

Let no man therefore disquiet himself too much about the future, por quit a just undertaking from despondency. Honest people ought to be cheerful, if only for the credit of their virtue. Let us not grow melancholy upon a superficial view of things; for that is as far as we can dis

It is much better to act our own parts carefully, and leave the event with the Almigiity.

cover.

ESSAY 32.

POPULAR DISCONTENTS.

(Sir William Temple.)

THERE is no theme so large and easy, no discourse so common, and so plausible, as the faults or corruptions of governments, the miscarriages or complaints of magistrates; none so easily received, and spread among good and well-meaning men; none so mischievously raised and employed by ill, nor turned to worse and more disguised ends. No governments, no times were ever free from them, nor ever will be till all men are wise, good, and easily contented. No civil or political constitutions can be perfect or secure, while they are composed of men, that are

for the most part passionate, interested, unjust or unthinking, but generally and naturally restless and unquiet; discontented with the present, and what they have, raving after the future, or something they want, and thereby ever disposed and desirous to change.

This makes the first and universal default of all governments; and this made the philosophers of old, instead of seeking or accepting the public magistracies, or offices of their countries, employ their time and care to improve men's reasons, to temper their affections, to allay their passions, to discover the vanity or the mischief of pride and ambition, of riches, and of luxury; believing the only way to make their countries happy and safe, was to make men wise and good, just and reasonable. But as nature will ever be too strong for art, so these excellent med succeeded as little in their design, as lawgivers have done in the frame of any perfect government; and all of them left the world much as they found it, ever unquiet, subject to changes and revolutions, as our ininds are to discontents, and our bodies to diseases.

Another cause of distempers in states, and discontents under all governments, is the unequal condition that must necessarily fall to the share of so many, and so different men that compose them. In great multitudes, few in comparison are born to great titles, or great estates; few can be called to public charges, and employments of dignity or power; few by their industry and conduct, arrive at great degrees of wealth and fortune, and every man speaks of the fair, according to his own market. All are easily satisfied with themselves and their own merit, though they are not so with their fortune; and when they see others in better condition, whom they esteem less deserving, they lay it upon the ill constitution of government, the partiality or humour of princes, the negligence or corruption of ministers.

The common people always find fault with the times, and some must always have reason; for the merchant gains by peace, and the soldier by war; the shepherd by wet seasons, and the ploughman by dry; when the city fills, the country grows empty, and while trade increases in one place, it decays in another.

In such variety of conditions and courses of life, men's designs and interests must be very opposite one to another, and both cannot succeed alike. Whee. ther the winner laugh or no, the loser will complain, and rather than quarrel at his own skill or fortune, will do it with the dice, or those he plays with, or the master of the house. When any body is angry, some body must be in fault; and

None was

the faults of seasons which cannot be remedied, of accidents that could not be prevented, of mis carriages that could not be foreseen, are often laid upon the government, and, whether right or wrong,

have the same effect of raising or increasing the popular discontents.

Besides the natural propensity, and inevitable occasions of complaint from the dispositions of men, or accidents of fortune, others proceed from the very nature of government. ever perfect, or free from very many, and just exceptions. The Republics of Athens, Carthage, and Rome, so renowned in the world, and which have furnished story with the greatest actions and persons upon the records of time, were but long courses of disorder and vicissitude, perpetually rolling between the oppression of the nobles, the seditions of the people, the violence of soldiers, or the tyranny of commanders. All

of the world yield the same examples; and if we travel as far as China and Peru, we meet with no one that has not been subject to the same concussions, and fallen at some time or other, under the same convulsions of state, either by civil dissensions, or by foreign invasions.

But how can it otherwise happen when the very ideas of government have been liable to exceptions, as well as their actual frames and con

places and

ages

« PreviousContinue »