« ZurückWeiter »
Though hunting had ceased to be a necessary means of procuring food, it was a very convenient resource on which the wholesomeness and comfort as well as the luxury of the table depended. Before the natural pastures were improved, and new kinds of fodder for cattle discovered, it was impossible to maintain the summer stock during the cold season.
Hence a portion of it was regularly slaughtered and salted for winter provision. We may suppose that when no alternative was offered but these salted meats, even the leanest venison was devoured with relish. There was somewhat more excuse therefore for the severity with which the lords of forests and manors preserved the beasts of the chase, than if they had been considered as merely objects of sport. The laws relating to preservation of game were in every country uncommonly rigorous. They formed in England that odious system of forest laws which distinguished the tyranny of our Norman kings. Capital punishment for killing a stag or wild boar was frequent, and perhaps warranted by law until the charter of John. The French code was less severe; but even Henry IV. enacted the pain of death against the repeated offence of chasing deer in the royal forests. The privilege of hunting was reserved to the nobility till the reign of Louis IX., who extended it in some degree to persons of lower birth.
This excessive passion for the sports of the field produced those evils which are apt to result from it; a strenuous idleness, which disdained all useful occupations, and an oppressive spirit towards the peasantry. The devastation committed under the pretence of destroying wild animals, which had been already protected in their depredations, is noticed in serious authors, and has also been the topic of popular ballads. What effect this must have had on agriculture it is easy to conjecture. The levelling of forests, the draining of morasses, and the extirpation of mischievous animals which inhabit them, are the first objects of man's labour in reclaiming the earth to his
and these were forbidden by a landed aristocracy, whose control over the progress of agricultural improvement was unlimited, and who had not yet learned to sacrifice their pleasures to their avarice.
These habits of the rich, and the miserable servitude of those who cultivated the land, rendered its fertility unavailing. Predial servitude, indeed, in some of its modifications, has always been the great bar to improvement. In the agricultural economy of Rome, the labouring husbandman, the menial slave of some wealthy senator, had not even that qualified interest in the soil which the tenure of villanage afforded to the peasant of feudal ages. Italy, therefore, a country presenting many natural impediments, was but imperfectly reduced into cultivation before the irruption of the barbarians. That revolution destroyed agriculture with every other art; and succeeding calamities during five or six centuries left the finest regions of Europe unfruitful and desolate. There are but two possible modes in which the produce of the earth can be increased ; one by rendering fresh land serviceable; the other by improving the fertility of that which is already cultivated. The last is only attainable by the application of capital and of skill to agriculture; neither of which could be expected in the ruder ages of society. The former is, to a certain extent, always practicable whilst waste lands remain; but it was checked by laws hostile to improvement, such as the manorial and concmonable rights in England, and by the general tone of man
33.-THE ANT-HILL-A LESSON TO HUMAN PRIDE.
If there be any thing which makes human nature appear ridiculous to beings of superior faculties, it must be pride. They know so well the vanity of those imaginary perfections, that swell the heart of man, and of those little supernumerary
advantages whether in birth, fortune, or title, which one man enjoys above another, that it must certainly very much astonish, if it does not very much divert them, when they see a mortal puffed up, and valuing himself above his neighbours on any of these accounts, at the same time that he is obnoxious to all the common calamities of the species.
To set this thought in its true light, we will fancy, if you
please, that yonder molehill is inhabited by reasonable creatures, and that every pismire, his shape and way of life only excepted, is endowed with human passions. How should we smile to hear one give us an account of the pedigrees, distinctions, and titles, that reign among them! Observe how the whole swarm divide and make way for the pismire that passes through them! You must understand he is an emmet of quality, and has better blood in his veins than any pismire in the molehill. Do not you see how sensible he is of it, how slowly he marches forward, how the whole rabble of ants keep their distance ? Here you may observe one placed upon a little eminence, and looking down on a long row of labourers. He is the richest insect on this side the hillock; he has a walk of half a yard in length, and a quarter of an inch in breadth; he keeps a hundred menial servants, and has at least fifteen barleycorns in his granary. He is now chiding and beslaving the emmet that stands before him, and who, for all that we can discover, is as good an emmet as himself. But here comes an insect of figure. Do not you take notice of a little white straw that he carries in his mouth? That straw, you must understand, he would not part with for the longest tract about the molehill; did you but know what he has undergone to purchase it! See how the ants of all qualities and conditions swarm about him! Should this straw drop out of his mouth, you would see all this numerous circle of attendants follow the next that took it up, and leave the discarded insect, or run over his back to come at his successor.
If now you have a mind to see all the ladies of the molehill, observe first the pismire that listens to the emmet on her left hand, at the same time that she seems to turn away her head from him. He tells this poor insect that she is a goddess, that her eyes are brighter than the sun, that life and death are at her disposal. She believes him, and gives herself a thousand little airs upon it. Mark the vanity of the pismire on your left hand. She can scarcely crawl with
but know she values herself upon her birth ; and, if you mind, spurns at every one that comes within her reach. The little nimble coquette that is running along by the side of her is a
wit. She has broken many a pismire's heart. Do but observe what a drove of lovers are running after her.
We will now finish this imaginary scene; but, first of all, to draw the parallel closer, will suppose, if you please, that death comes down upon the molehill, in the shape of a cock-sparrow, who picks up without distinction the pismire of quality and his flatterers, the pismire of substance and his day-labourers, the white-straw officer and his sycophants, with all the goddesses, wits, and beauties of the molehill. May we not imagine that beings of superior natures and perfections regard all the instances of pride and vanity among our species in the same kind of view, when they take a survey of those who inhabit the earth; or, in the language of an ingenious French poet, of those pismires that people this heap of dirt, which human vanity has divided into climates and regions ?
34.-INVENTION AND USE OF GUNPOWDER.
The only hope of salvation for the Greek empire and the adjacent kingdoms would have been some more powerful weapon, some discovery in the art of war, that should give them a decisive superiority over their Turkish foes. Such a weapon was in their hands; such a discovery had been made in the critical moment of their fate. The chemists of China or Europe had found, by casual or elaborate experiments, that a mixture of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal, produces, with a spark of fire, a tremendous explosion. It was soon observed, that if the expansive force were compressed in a strong tube, a ball of stone or iron might be expelled with irresistible and destructive velocity. The precise era of the invention and application of gunpowder is involved in doubtful traditions and equivocal language; yet we may clearly discern that it was known before the middle of the fourteenth century; and that before the end of the same, the use of artillery in battles and sieges, by sea and land, was familiar to the states of Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and England. The priority of nations is of small account; none could derive any exclusive benefit from their previous or superior knowledge; and in the common improvement they stood on the same level of relative power and military science. Nor was it possible to circumscribe the secret within the pale of the church; it was disclosed to the Turks by the treachery of apostates and the selfish policy of rivals; and the sultans had sense to adopt, and wealth to reward, the talents of a Christian engineer. The Genoese, who transported Amurath into Europe, must be accused as his preceptors; and it was probably by their hands that his cannon was cast and directed at the siege of Constantinople. The first attempt was indeed unsuccessful; but in the general warfare of the age, the advantage was on their side who were most commonly the assailants. For a while the proportion of the attack and defence was suspended; and this thunderingartillery was pointed against the walls and towers, which had been erected only to resist the less potent engines of antiquity. By the Venetians the use of gunpowder was communicated without reproach to the sultans of Egypt and Persia, their allies against the Ottoman power; the secret was soon propagated to the extremities of Asia; and the advantage of the European was confined to his easy victories over the savages of the new world. If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.
35.—INCENTIVES TO EXERTION.
Let me, who have not survived my sympathies with the feelings of youth, who drank from the same pure spring at which you allay the thirst for knowledge, who have felt the glow of your emulation let me, after being engaged in the active scenes
of public life, and buffeted by the storms of political partylet me bring the living testimony of experience to confirm the truth of those precepts which you hear from the higher authority of the distinguished men, of whom your instruction is the peculiar province.