Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Extraordinary men like Frederic, long conspicuous in the eyes of mankind, and knowing themselves to be so; long habituated to the exercise of self-command in seasons of the most imminent danger, may be consistent to the last, and never lose that composure and fortitude which have so uniformly through life elevated them above the level of their fellowcreatures. Their reward is of this world, and they obtain it. But what is this to the rest of mankind ? what is it to us common mortals ? what is to us the example of Frederic ? His example is nothing, and his opinions are nothing, and his death-bed is nothing.

Placed as we are, not on thrones and at the head of armies, and to be gazed at by mankind, now and in future ages, but in the midst of our own unnoticed rounds of amusements and of business, of pleasures and of pains ;, amid temptations and duties of an ordinary nature ; growing to maturity for one short season; flourishing for another; fading, decaying, visibly dying away for a third, while, in the mean time, we at least are well aware that somewhere or other resides some stupendous Intelligence, in whose presence we thus revolve through the appointed vicissitudes of our being, and whose Almighty will is then once more to be exercised upon our fate in some unknown manner, in some new situation, that is as yet impenetrably removed, beyond what is therefore to us the affecting, the anxious, the awful moment of our dissolution ; - what is to us the example of Frederic ? His example is nothing, and his opinions are nothing, and his death-bed is nothing; they are nothing, they are worse than nothing.

I have made these observations on French literature, and on the sceptical writings of distinguished men, but nothing that I have now said must be interpreted in any manner unfavourable to the great interests of truth, or the rights of free inquiry. Still less must it be supposed that men are to sit in judgment on the religious opinions of each other, and decide on the salvation of particular men, of Frederic for instance, or Voltaire. To his own master must each individual stand or fall, and to him alone be responsible for the use of those faculties and opportunities with which he has been intrusted. Men must also be allowed the publication of their opinions, if this be done with decency and seriousness,

for the learned can have no right to say that they are in possession of the truth, still less can the unlearned, unless every grave man can offer his opinions, be they what they may, though not to the multitude, at least to grave men like himself. Such are the principles which I conceive to be fundamentally necessary to the proper cultivation of religious truth, and of all truth. I must not be supposed for a moment to entertain the slightest wish to disturb or violate them, but when all this has been admitted, distinctions may still be made between different descriptions of literature, different systems of opinion, and different modes of religious inquiry. And when we are made thus casually to approach in the course of our historical reading, a very particular department of modern literature, and in reality the most awful subjects that can be presented to our thoughts, it may be competent for me, it may be necessary, to compare and contrast, at least in the passing manner I have now done, the great body of the more entertaining, popular, and modern French writers with our own, and to require that the one should be well examined and digested, and that before the other be even at all looked at, the more so because the human mind, when adverting to serious, to moral, and religious subjects, is unhappily affected, particularly in early life, by many other considerations besides the just and salutary impressions of reason and of truth.

Such are the books and memoirs to which I would wish to refer the student, while he is endeavouring to appreciate one of the most distinguished characters of history, and the events with which that character is connected. The mass of reading I have mentioned is very considerable-Gillies, Towers, Thiebault, Frederic's own account of his political transactions, Mirabeau, and Coxe; and to these I have added a very amusing work by Wraxhall-his Memoirs of the Court of Berlin.

But the general reader may, I think, be satisfied with Towers and Coxe; though much of Thiebault, of the account of Frederic, and of Mirabeau, ought, I think, to be added by those who would fit themselves for the high character of men of intelligence and of statesmen.

But I must also mention, that by the general reader, and

by every reader, the account that is given of Thiebault's book in the Edinburgh Review for October, 1805, should also be considered. It is always my wish to occupy as little of your time in this place as possible, and never to offer you imperfectly, what you may easily read properly delivered to you by the author himself. For these reasons I do not now stop to lay before you many of the observations which had occurred to me on the subject of Frederic, because I really have found them anticipated by the Edinburgh reviewer. I depend, however, upon your reading them in the Review, otherwise my lecture will want a part which I should have supplied myself, and without which it will be, even in my own conception, most materially defective. I must confess, too, that my dislike of Frederic would be thus disappointed of its gratification. This dislike is so great, that I can even bear to throw him, without compunction, as I now do, to the mercy of these northern tormentors.

NOTES

Mirabeau's Work on Prussia. What I advise the student to do, is to look through the pages of Mirabeau, and from the midst of the details, pick out the general remarks with which they are accompanied. These remarks are of general application, and may therefore be valuable to the student, whatever may be the statements in the midst of which they appear. I will give a short specimen of what I mean.

Certain details, for instance, are gone into with respect to some successful efforts made by the king to restore the population and prosperity of Pomerania; and then the general remark is the following :-“ But be that as it may, clear away the waste land, make the air wholesome, augment the means of subsistence by a perfect freedom of all industry and commerce, and leave every thing else to Nature; call in no strangers (the favourite measure of Frederic), your own people will increase fast enough, if you allow them the proper means of subsistence. But if, on the contrary, you will scarcely let them have air to breathe in, grind them down by feudal services of day labour and slavery, clog their industry, and choke and smother their commerce, your population must be kept down to the point which the weight of your chains determines; and vain is your gold, and your invitations to strangers to come and colonize."

Now this is a remark perfectly just and applicable to every possible case and situation of society.

Again, in another place (p. 389), the general remark is this :-“ It is not the plenty of the circulating medium, or money, that enriches a people: it is the absence of all those systems, and all those oppressions, that can indispose men to labour; the humanity, the policy, which prevents a state from tearing away from the people their money as soon as they have earned it. If you take from people their gains to pay your taxes and impositions, direct and indirect, how can they have a surplus with which to make improvements or better their condition? What must become of your agriculture, and the population that belongs to it?”

Observations of a like general nature will be found with respect to the serfs; to the proper circulation of property, its transfer, for instance, from nobles, who ruin themselves by extravagance, to those who accumulate fortunes by their industry and economy. So again, with respect to the Jesuits, and the difficult problem of managing the province of Silesia, almost equally divided between the Catholics and Protestants (the Catholics being at least not more than four to three).

a

In one part, Mirabeau seems to have his mind too much monopolized by the merits of agriculture, by the system of his father. A lown and its manufactures may enrich the neighbouring country by awakening and rewarding its industry; and such has been the progress of things in the history of the world. It does not at all follow, that for the establishment of manufactures you must inevitably withdraw from a country the capitals that would be necessary for its agriculture. If it be indeed contended by Mirabeau that the natural progress of affluence is in the contrary direction, and that agriculture is the first and great point to be secured; that manufactures and splendid towns are properly the effect, rather than the cause, of prosperity (as will hereafter be seen in America, though this has not been the course in Europe), no objection need be made to his positions. But on this subject the partisans of the opposite systems seem each so occupied by the particular advantages they have in view, that they are scarcely willing to hear each other, or allow the mutual benefits which the commerce of the towns and of the country, i. e. which manufacture and agriculture are so fitted mutually to interchange, multiply, and consolidate.

The management of the poor comes likewise in review; and Frederic's notions as well as Mirabeau's may be considered in these volumes. · That Frederic is wrong, there can be no doubt; but when Mirabeau arrives at his concluding remark, it appears to be that work ought to be offered for all who demand it. But I fear that this is the great difficulty of the case. The difficulty might be encountered, might be even submitted to, i. e. the community might think it good policy to employ people at a loss, rather than not have them employed at all. But the difficulty is itself, I conceive, insuperable. The notions of our own legislators, in the famous statute respecting the poor in the time of Elizabeth, were the same as those of Mirabeau. The overseers were expected to find work, that is, I fear, whether it could or could not be found.

The second book (that which is contained in the second volume) contains, towards the close, observations by Mirabeau of the same reasonable nature as before. The general conclusion is, that Frederic, after all, did not increase the population of his dominions. On the whole, the second book is very well worth reading.

The third book relates to the agriculture and natural productions. Here, as before, it is the general observations for which I should wish the student to look out. Such may occasionally be found. The book, however, is principally occupied in details, and the student will not have the patience to read it. The same may be said, in general, of the fourth book, on manufactures. The details cannot now be appreciated, but the general observations may; particularly the introduction, in which are laid down, very properly, on the priociples of Adam Smith, those causes which impede, and those which promote, the progress of manufactures—liberty of every sort, moral, religious, physical; the general encouragement of science and knowledge. On the contrary, he protests against all exclusive privileges, all prohibitions on the export of the raw material, and on the export of the manufacture. He protests against all imposts on foreign manufactures, all advances to manufacturers in the way of capitals, &c. &c.

« ZurückWeiter »