BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley


Vanity Fair

William Thackery


Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


A philosophical and political history of the settlements and trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies

by Raynal (Guillaume-Thomas-François, abbé)

Excerpt:

Flanders was the scene of these fortunate transactions ;. but it was not to its situation alone that it owed a distinction so savourable to its interests : this must likewise be attributed to its numerous manusactures of sine cloth, and particularly of tapestry; which last affords a proof how little the arts of drawing and perspective were then known. By these advantageous circumstances, the Low Countries became the richelt, the most populous, and the best cultivated part of Europe.

The flourishing condition of the inhabitants of Flanders, the Hanse towns, and some republics, who owed. their prosperity to their freedom, engaged the attention of most of the reigning monarchs, in whose dominions the right of citizens had hitherto been consined to the nobility and clergy; the rest of their subjects were slaves. But as soon as the cities were declared free, and had large immunities granted them, the merchants and mechanics entered into associations, which rose in estimation as they acquired riches. The sovereigns opposed these associations to the barons.. Thus anarchy and feudal tyranny gradually decreased. The tradesmen became citizens, and the third order of the state was restored to the privilege of being admitted to the national assembly.

Montesquieu attributes to Christianity the honour of having abolished slavery; but we venture to differ from him. When industry and riches prevailed among the people, the princes began to hold them in some estimation; when the sovereign could avail himself of the riches of the people, to gain advantages over the barons, laws were. framed to put the people in a better condition. It was through that sound policy, which commerce always introduces, and not through the spirit of the christian religion, that kings were induced to bestow freedom upon the slaves ©f their vassals, because those slaves, when made free, became subjects. Pope Alexander III, it is true, declared that christians were to be exempt from servitude; but this declaration was made merely to please the kings of France and England, who were desirous of humbling their vassals. Had he been inspired by the love of justice and humanity, he would not have said that the christian alone, but that man in general, was not born for slavery. He would have said, that the person, who is a voluntary slave, is a coward; that there are no lawsul chains to bind an unwilling slave; that he, who is not able to break these chains by force, is innocent in delivering himself from them by flight; and that his pretended master is an assassin, if he should punish with death an action to which nature gives a sanction. But the christian religion of the churches Rome is so sar from prohibiting slavery, that, in the catholic countries of Germany, as in Bohemia and Poland, where the people are extremely bigotted to that communion, they are still slaves; and. the ecclesiastical jurisdictions in these parts have still their bondsmen, as they formerly had' in France, without incurring the censure of the church.

In Italy, one might perceive the dawn of more prosperous days. The republics of Pisa, Genoa, and Florence,. were established on the wisest principles: the sactions of the Guelphs and Gibbelines, which had for so many ages laid waste these delightsul countries, were at length appeased: trade flourished, and consequently learning would soon be introduced. Venice was in the height of its glory; its navy, which eclipsed that os its neighbours, checked the progress of the maritime power of the Mammelucs and the Turks; in commerce, it was superior toall the European states taken together ; its inhabitants were numerous, and its riches immense ; the revenues were well managed, and the people were content; the republic borrowed money of the richer subjects, from motives, not of necessity, but of policy. The Venetians were the first people who found out the secret of attaching rich individuals to the interest of government, by inviting. them to vdt some part of their fortune in the public sunds. At Venice, there were manusacture!! of silk, gold, and silver; it supplied foreigners with ships: its works in gold and silver were the best, and almost the only ones of that time. The inhabitants were even accused of extravagance in having gold and silver pkte, and other utensils of the same materials. They were not, however, without sumptuary laws; but these laid no restraint on a species of luxury, by which the sums expended were preserved to the state. The noblemen united economy with splendour; the opulence of Venice revived the architecture of Athens; and, upon the whole, there was magnisicence as well as elegance in their luxury: the people were ignorant, but the nobles were enlightened : the government opposed the attempts of the popes with sirmness and prudence. Siamo Vemaiani, poi Chrijlianl, said one of their senators, who expressed in these words the sense of the whole senate; for at that early period they debased the priesthood, though they should rather have made it usesul to morality; which, however, was more rigid and pure among the Venetians than among the other people of Italy. Their troops were very disferent from those miserable condottieri whose name was so much more terrible than their arms. Venice was the feat of politeness; and society was then under less restraint from state inquisitors, than it has been since the republic began to be jealous of the power of its neighbours and dissident of its own strength.

In the sifteenth century, Italy sar surpassed the other states of Europe. The most extravagant and moil persecuting spirit of superstition, which supplied the place of every kind of merit', and occasioned' so many secret artisices and cruel oppressions, was, however, the means of releasing Spain gradually from the Arabian yoke; its several provinces had lately been united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the conquest of Granada; and its power was even equal to that of France. The sine wool of Castile and Leon was prepared- at Segovia^ and the cloths manusactured from it, were fold all over Europe, and even in Asia. The perpetual efforts the Spaniards were obliged to make to pieserve their liberty. inspired them with resolution and considence; their success had elevated their minds ; and, being unenlightened, they abandoned themselves to all the enthusiasm of chivalry and religion. Consined to a peninsula, and having ho immediate intercourse with other nations, they despised them ; and displayed that sort of proud disdain, which, either among individuals or communities, is usually the characteristic of ignorance. They were the only people that maintained a Handing body of insantry, which was excellent. Having been for many ages involved in war, their soldiery was indisputably supeiior to that of the other states of Europe.

The Portuguese were nearly of the same kind of turn; but their monarchy was better regulated than that ofCJastile, and the administration was conducted with more ease after the reduction of the Moors by the conquest of Algarva.

In France, Lewis XI had just lowered the power of the great vassals,' raised that of the magistracy, and m»de the nobles subservient to the laws. The people of France, growing less dependent on their lords, must necessarily become, in a short time, more industrious, more active, and more respectable; but industry and commerce could not flourish on a sudden. Reason must of course make but a slow progress. in the midst of those commotions which were still excited by the great, and under the reign of a prince devoted to the most abominable superstition. The barons were distinguished only by their savage pomp ; their revenues were scarce sussicient to entertain in their suit a train of gentlemen without employment, who defended them against the sovereign and the laws. The expences of their t^ble were immoderate; and this barbarous luxury, of which there are ltiil too many remains, afforded no encouragement to any of the usesul arts. But neither the manners nor the language of those times partook of that decency which distinguishes the superior ranks of citizens, and procures them respect from the rest. Notwithstanding the courtesy enjoined to the knights, coarse. and rough manners still prevailed among the great ; the nation had then the same character of inconsiltence it has since preserved, and which a nation will ever have, whose morals and customs are not consormable to the laws. The councils issued innumerable, and frequently contradictory edicts; but the prince readily dispensed with the observance of them. By this easy disposition of the sovereign, the inconveniencies which would have arisen from a multitude of laws inconsiderately made by the French ministry, have been happily prevented.


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