Page images
PDF
EPUB

to every mind that is sensible to order and general happiness.

Yet here also, as in the case of personal security, riches, of whatever kind, in spite of all laws and precautions, are not exempt from the common instability, of other sublunary things; they are exposed to continual frauds and depredations; to innumerable disasters and casualties; so great is their uncertainty, as if it grew out of their own nature: They make themselves wings, says Solomon, they fly away*.

2. With relation to the distribution of property, the best possible state of society seems to be, when the bulk of a people can subsist comfortably with moderate labour, and cannot subsist without it. And indeed no society can enjoy much permanency beyond this state; for suppose it elevated a few degrees higher, whether by a sudden influx of wealth, or by any other means, the number of idle hands that would thus be thrown upon it, and the consequent deficiency of labour, would probably soon reduce it more below its proper situation, than it had beeir*raised above it.

There is no wav, that I know of, for the body of citizens to relieve themselves of the necessity of labour, but by a most detestable division of mankind into freemen and slaves; by which the one part constitute themselves the lords and tyrants of the other. This we know was a practice with the most celebrated republics of antiquity, and notwithstanding the greater light and liberty of the present times, is still a practice; which, however, we have reason to believe is drawing towards a close, if not by an act of voluntary abolition (an honour to which our rulers seem not forward to aspire) yet from the general state and circumstances of the world, that will no longer endure the continuance of a grievance, under which it has groaned for so many ages. )

IV. There remains now only the last end of government, above specified, to be briefly considered.

No rational policy will permit the dignity turbed, by notorious profligacy, by tumult or riot, or by similar disorders, although not attended with any actual infringement of liberty or property. Such licence ought not to be suffered to infest even a village; much less should it be tolerated in a nation at large. Mr. Locke himself, who is known to be a strenuous advocate for freedom, makes.it a part of the office of the magistrate to punish debauchery and immorality, and compel men to lead sober and honest lives*. And notwithstanding the increase of liberality since his time, both flagrant breaches of the peace, and open and scandalous vice, still continue in this country to be objects of political animadversion, and wilt ever so remain, unless reason and virtue should entirely withdraw themselves from amongst us, and leave us a prey to barbarism and false philosophy.

Let us then proceed to inquire for a moment, how far the coercive power of government is adequate to the maintenance of public decorum, which is chiefly violated in the following respects:

First, by lewdness and debauchery. So violent is the propension of mankind to sensual indulgence, that no human power can always restrain them from open and scandalous excesses. Indeed by the strict execution of the laws now in force amongst us, and by others to supply the deficiency of the present, much more might be done to check the progress of evils, which threaten even our political existence; though, after every provision, nothing could prevent bad men from diffusing their poison in a more subtle and insinuating manner, whether by the dubious turn of their conversation, or the general style of their behaviour. And in regard to that great medium of communication, the press, unless very severe and perhaps unwise restrictions were laid upon it, the corruption of authors will be sure to make it an engine of obscenity, as well as of other mischiefs; at least, in a covert and delicate way, which being less shocking to our moral feelings, is suited to spread the contagion with greater effect. These therefore are evils, which are more the subjects

Secondly, by gaming: which, although it has no particular ground in human nature, and is no more than an accidental determination of its general propensity to dissipation; when it has once made its way into society, and obtained the sanction of fashion, is an evil not easily to be suppressed, or even checked, by the wisest government. Of this we have a striking example in our Own country, where, in spite of many discouraging statutes *, it prevails to an alarming degree, defeating every provision of law by a principle of false honour, which has often a strange influence with men who possess but little sense either of virtue or decency.

Thirdly, by prof oneness. By this I understand a contemptuous disregard to the being and providence of God, which commonly shows itself by using his name with irreverence, and neglecting his worship, Mr. Boyle is said never to have mentioned the name of God, without a visible pause in his discourse; and whoever does it with

« PreviousContinue »