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- Lectures and Essays - 5/67 -

he would never have bestowed on the provinces of his empire local self- government and municipal life; besides, the race, though it included wonderful varieties in itself, was, as a race, intensely tribal, and treated persistently all other races as barbarians. It would have deprived mankind of Roman law and politics, as well as of that vast extension of the Roman aedileship which covered the world with public works beneficent in themselves and equally so as examples; whereas the Roman had the greatness of soul to do homage to Greek intellect, and, notwithstanding an occasional Mummius, preserved all that was of the highest value in Greek civilization, better perhaps than it would have been preserved by the tyrants and condottieri of the Greek decadence. As to a Semitic Empire, whether in the hands of Syrians or Carthaginians, with their low Semitic craft, their Moloch-worships and their crucifixions,--the very thought fills us with horror. It would have been a world-wide tyranny of the strong box, into which all the products of civilization would have gone. _Parcere subjectis_ was the rule of Rome as well as _debellare superbos_; and while all conquest is an evil, the Roman was the most clement and the least destructive of conquerors. This is true of him on the whole, though he sometimes was guilty of thoroughly primaeval cruelty. He was the great author of the laws of war as well as of the laws of peace. That he not seldom, when his own interest was concerned, put the mere letter of the social law in place of justice, and that we are justly revolted on these occasions by his hypocritical observance of forms, is very true: nevertheless, his scrupulosity and the language of the national critics in these cases prove the existence of at least a rudimentary conscience. No compunction for breach of international law or justice we may be sure ever visited the heart of Tiglath-Pileser. Cicero's letter of advice to his brother on the government of a province may seem a tissue of truisms now, though Warren Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey would hardly have found it so, but it is a landmark in the history of civilization. That the Roman Republic should die, and that a colossal and heterogeneous empire should fall under the rule of a military despot, was perhaps a fatal necessity; but the despotism long continued to be tempered, elevated, and rendered more beneficent by the lingering spirit of the Republic; the liberalism of Trajan and the Antonines was distinctly republican nor did Sultanism finally establish itself before Diocletian. Perhaps we may number among the proofs of the Roman's superiority the capacity shown so far as we know first by him of being touched by the ruin of a rival. We may be sure that no Assyrian conqueror even affected to weep over the fall of a hostile city however magnificent and historic. On the whole it must be allowed that physical influences have seldom done better for humanity than they did in shaping the imperial character and destinies of Rome.


[Footnote: The writer some time ago gave a lecture before the Royal Institution on "The Influence of Geographical Circumstances on Political Character," using Rome and England as illustrations. It may perhaps be right to say that the present paper, which touches here and there on matters of political opinion, is not identical with the latter portion of that lecture.]

Two large islands lie close to that Continent which has hitherto been selected by Nature as the chief seat of civilization. One island is much larger than the other, and the larger island lies between the smaller and the Continent. The larger island is so placed as to receive primaeval immigration from three quarters--from France, from the coast of Northern Germany and the Low Countries, and from Scandinavia, the transit being rendered somewhat easier in the last case by the prevailing winds and by the little islands which Scotland throws out, as resting-places and guides for the primaeval navigator, into the Northern Sea. The smaller island, on the other hand, can hardly receive immigration except through the larger, though its southern ports look out, somewhat ominously to the eye of history, towards Spain. The western and northern parts of the larger island are mountainous, and it is divided into two very unequal parts by the Cheviot Hills and the mosses of the Border. In the larger island are extensive districts well suited for grain. The climate of most of the smaller is too wet for grain and good only for pasture. The larger island is full of minerals and coal, of which the smaller island is almost destitute. These are the most salient features of the scene of English history, and, with a temperate climate, the chief physical determinants of English destiny.

What, politically speaking, are the special attributes of an island? In the first place, it is likely to be settled by a bold and enterprising race. Migration by land under the pressure of hunger or of a stronger tribe, or from the mere habit of wandering, calls for no special effort of courage or intelligence on the part of the nomad. Migration by sea does: to go forth on a strange element at all, courage is required; but we can hardly realize the amount of courage required to go voluntarily out of sight of land. The first attempts at ship-building also imply superior intelligence, or an effort by which the intelligence will be raised. Of the two great races which make up the English nation, the Celtic had only to pass a channel which you can see across, which perhaps in the time of the earliest migration did not exist. But the Teutons, who are the dominant race and have supplied the basis of the English character and institutions, had to pass a wider sea. From Scandinavia, especially, England received, under the form of freebooters, who afterwards became conquerors and settlers, the very core and sinews of her maritime population, the progenitors of the Blakes and Nelsons. The Northman, like the Phoenician, had a country too narrow for him, and timber for ship-building at hand. But the land of the Phoenician was a lovely land, which bound him to itself; and wherever he moved his heart still turned to the pleasant abodes of Lebanon and the sunlit quays of Tyre. Thus he became a merchant, and the father of all who have made the estranging sea a highway and a bond between nations, more than atoning by the service thus rendered to humanity, for his craft, his treachery, his cruelty, and his Moloch- worship. The land of the Scandinavian was not a lovely land, though it was a land suited to form strong arms, strong hearts, chaste natures, and, with purity, strength of domestic affection. He was glad to exchange it for a sunnier dwelling-place, and thus, instead of becoming a merchant, he became the founder of Norman dynasties in Italy, France, and England. We are tempted to linger over the story of these primaeval mariners, for nothing equals it in romance. In our day Science has gone before the most adventurous barque, limiting the possibilities of discovery, disenchanting the enchanted Seas, and depriving us for ever of Sinbad and Ulysses. But the Phoenician and the Northman put forth into a really unknown world. The Northman, moreover, was so far as we know the first ocean sailor. If the story of the circumnavigation of Africa by the Phoenicians is true, it was an astonishing enterprise, and almost dwarfs modern voyages of discovery. Still it would be a coasting voyage, and the Phoenician seems generally to have hugged the land. But the Northman put freely out into the wild Atlantic, and even crossed it before Columbus, if we may believe a legend made specially dear to the Americans by the craving of a new country for antiquities. It has been truly said, that the feeling of the Greek, mariner as he was, towards the sea, remained rather one of fear and aversion, intensified perhaps by the treacherous character of the squally AEgean; but the Northman evidently felt perfectly at home on the ocean, and rode joyously, like a seabird, on the vast Atlantic waves.

Not only is a race which comes by sea likely to be peculiarly vigorous, self-reliant, and inclined, when settled, to political liberty, but the very process of maritime migration can scarcely fail to intensify the spirit of freedom and independence. Timon or Genghis Khan, sweeping on from land to land with the vast human herd under his sway, becomes more despotic as the herd grows larger by accretion, and the area of its conquests is increased. But a maritime migration is a number of little joint stock enterprises implying limited leadership, common counsels, and a good deal of equality among the adventurers. We see in fact that the Saxon immigration resulted in the foundation of a number of small communities which, though they were afterwards fused into seven or eight petty kingdoms and ultimately into one large kingdom, must, while they existed, have fostered habits of local independence and self-government. Maritime migration would also facilitate the transition from the tribe to the nation, because the ships could hardly be manned on purely tribal principles; the early Saxon communities in England appear in fact to have been semi-tribal, the local bond predominating over the tribal, though a name with a tribal termination is retained. Room would scarcely be found in the ships for a full proportion of women; the want would be supplied by taking the women of the conquered country; and thus tribal rules of exclusive intermarriage, and all barriers connected with them, would be broken down.

Another obvious attribute of an island is freedom from invasion. The success of the Saxon invaders may be ascribed to the absence of strong resistance. The policy of Roman conquest, by disarming the natives, had destroyed their military character, as the policy of British conquest has done in India, where races which once fought hard against the invader under their native princes, such as the people of Mysore, are now wholly unwarlike. Anything like national unity, or power of co- operation against a foreign enemy, had at the same time been extirpated by a government which divided that it might command. The Northman in his turn owed his success partly to the want of unity among the Saxon principalities, partly and principally to the command of the sea which the Saxon usually abandoned to him, and which enabled him to choose his own point of attack, and to baffle the movements of the defenders. When Alfred built a fleet, the case was changed.

William of Normandy would scarcely have succeeded, great as his armament was, had it not been for the diversion effected in his favour by the landing of the Scandinavian pretender in the North, and the failure of provisions in Harold's Channel fleet, which compelled it to put into port. Louis of France was called in as a deliverer by the barons who were in arms against the tyranny of John; and it is not necessary to discuss the Tory description of the coming of William of Orange as a conquest of England by the Dutch. Bonaparte threatened invasion, but unhappily was unable to invade: unhappily we say, because if he had landed in England he would assuredly have there met his doom; the Russian campaign would have been antedated with a more complete result, and all the after-pages in the history of the Arch-Brigand would have been torn from the book of fate. England is indebted for her political liberties in great measure to the Teutonic character, but she is also in no small measure indebted to this immunity from invasion which has brought with it a comparative immunity from standing armies. In the Middle Ages the question between absolutism and that baronial liberty which was the germ and precursor of the popular liberty of after-times turned in great measure upon the relative strength of the national militia and of the bands of mercenaries kept in pay by overreaching kings. The bands of mercenaries brought over by John proved too strong for the patriot barons, and would have annulled the Great Charter, had not national liberty found a timely and powerful, though sinister, auxiliary in the ambition of the French. Prince Charles I. had no standing army, the troops taken into pay for the wars with Spain and France had been disbanded before the outbreak of the Revolution; and on that occasion the nation was able to overthrow the tyranny without looking abroad for assistance. But Charles II. had learned wisdom from his father's fate; he kept up a small standing army; and the Whigs, though at the crisis of the Exclusion Bill they laid their hands upon their swords, never ventured to draw them, but allowed themselves to be proscribed, their adherents to be ejected from the corporations, and their leaders to be brought to the scaffold. Resistance was in the same way rendered hopeless by the standing army of James II., and the patriots were compelled to stretch their hands for aid to William of

Lectures and Essays - 5/67

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