« PoprzedniaDalej »
To begin with what we are best acquainted with. Of this sort were the maxims of the Greeks and Romans. We see every where in Homer, kings and princes living upon the fruits of their lands and their flocks, and work, ing with their own hands. Hesiod has written a poem on purpose to recommend husbandry, as the only creditable means of subsisting and improving ones fortune; and finds fault with his brother, to whom he addresses it, for living at other people's expence, by pleading causes, and following affairs of that kind. He reckons this employment, which is the sole occupation of so many amongst us, no better than idleness. We see by Xenophon's @conomics that the Greeks had no way lessened their opinion of husbandry, when they were at the highest pitch of politeness.
We must not therefore inipute the fondness of the Romans for husbandry to stupidity and want of letters: it is rather a sign of their good sense. As all men are born with limbs and bodies fit for labour, they thought every one ought to make use of them; and that they could not do it to better purpose than in making the earth afford them a certain maintenance and innocent plenty. It was not, however, covetousness that recommended it to them; since the same Romans despised gold, and the presents of strangers. Nor was it want of courage and bravery; since at that very time they subdued all Italy, and raised those powerful armies with which they afterwards conquered the whole world. On the contrary, the painful and frugal life they led in the country was the chief reason of
their their great strength, making their bodies robust and inured to labour, and accustoming them to severe discipline. Whoever is acquainted with the life of Čato the Censor, cannot suspect him of a low way of thinking, or of meanness of spirit: yet that great man, who had gone through all the offices in the commonwealth when it flourished most, who had governed provinces and commanded armies; that great orator, lawyer, and politician, did not think it beneath him to write of the various ways of managing lands and vines, the method of building stables for different sorts of beasts, and a press for wine or oil; and all this in the most circumstantial manner; so that, we see, he understood it perfectly, and did not write out of ostentation or vainglory, but for the benefit of mankind.
Let us then frankly own that our contempt of husbandry is not founded upon any solid reason; since this occupation is no way inconsistent with courage, or any other virtue that is necessary either in peace or war, or even with true politeness. Whence then does it proceed? I will endeavour to shew the real cause. It comes only from use, and the old customs of our own country. The Franks, and other people of Germany, lived in countries that were covered with forests: they had neither corn nor wine, nor any good fruits : so that they were obliged to live by hunting, as the savages still do in the cold countries of America. After they had crossed the Rhine, and settled on better lands, they were ready enough to take the advantages that result from agriculture, arts, and trade; but would not apply themselves to E 2
any any of them. They left this occupation to the Romans whom they had subdued, and continued in their antient ignorance, which time seemed to have made venerable; and entailed such an idea of nobility upon it, as we have still much ado to get the better of.
But, in the same degree that they lessened the esteem for agriculture, they brought hunting into credit, of which the antients made but little account. They held it in the highest repute, and advanced it to very great perfection, sparing neither pains nor expence. This has been generally the employment of the nobility. Yet, to consider things in a true light, the labour spent in tilling the ground, and rearing tame creatures, answers at least as well, as that which only aims at catching wild beasts, often at the expence of tillage. The moderate pains of one that has the care of a great number of cattle and poultry, is, surely, as eligible as the violent and unequal exercise of a hunter; and oxen and sheep are at least as useful for our support as dogs and horses. It may well therefore be asserted, that our customs, in this point, are not as agreeable to reason as those of the antients,
Besides, the Greeks and Romans were not the only people that esteemed agriculture as the Hebrews did: the Carthaginians, who were originally Phænicians, studied it much, as appears by the twenty-eight books which Mago wrote upon that subject.* The Egyptians had such a reverence for it, as even to adore the
creatures that were of use in it. The Persians, in the height of their power, had overseers in every province to look after the tillage of the ground. Cyrus the younger delighted in planting and cultivating a garden with his own hands. * As to the Chaldeans, we cannot doubt of their being well skilled in husbandry, if we reflect upon the fruitfulness of the plains of Ba bylon, which produced two or three hundred grains for one.t In a word, the history of China teaches us, that agriculture was also in high esteem among them in the most antient and best times. Nothing but the tyranny of the northern nations has made it so generally disesteemed.
Let us then divest ourselves of the mean opinion we have conceived of it from our infancy. Instead of our villages, where we see on one side castles and houses of pleasure, and on the other miserable huts and cottages, let us imagine we saw those spacious farms which the Romans called villas, that contained an apartment for the master, an inner yard for poultry, barns, stables, and servants' houses; and all this in exact proportion, well built, kept in good repair, and exceedingly clean. We may see descriptions of them in Varro and Columella. These slaves, were most of them happier than our country. people, well fed, well clothed, and without any care upon their hands for the sustenance of their families. The masters, frugal as they were, lived more to their satisfaction than our
gentry. We read in Xenophon of an Athenian citizen, who, taking a walk every morning into the fields to look after his workmen, at the same time promoted his health by the exercise of his body, and increased his substance by his diligence to make the most of it.* So that he was rich enough to give liberally to religious uses, the service of his friends, and country. Tully mentions several farmers in Sicily, so rich and magnificent, as to have their houses furnished with statues of great value, and were possessed of gold and silver plate of chac'd work.
In fine, it must be owned, that as long as the nobility and rich men of a country were not above this most antient of all professions, their lives were more happy, because more conformable to nature. They lived longer, and in better health, their bodies were fitter for the fatigues of war and travelling, and their minds more serious and composed. Being less idle, they were not so tired of themselves, nor so solicitous in refining their pleasures. Labour gave a relish to the smallest diversions. They had fewer evil designs in their heads, and less temptation to put them in execution. Their plain and frugal way of living did not admit of extravagance, or occasion their running into debt. There were, of consequence, fewer law-suits, selling up of goods, and families ruined : fewer frauds, outrages, and such other crimes, as real or imaginary poverty makes men commit, when they are not able or willing to work. The
* Xenoph. Econ. + Lib. iv. in Ver.