Infomotions, Inc.Of The Rise And Progress Of The Arts And Sciences / Hume, David

Author: Hume, David
Title: Of The Rise And Progress Of The Arts And Sciences
Publisher: Unknown. (Ask Eric.)
Tag(s): monarchy; gallantry; sciences; barbarous; arts; genius; refined; government; progress; refinements; western philosophy
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   Copyright 1995, Christopher MacLachlan ( See
   end note for details on copyright and editing conventions.[1]

   Editor's note: "Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences"
   appeared in 1742 in Volume two of Hume's Essays, Moral and Political.
   The text file here is based on the 1875 Green and Grose edition.
   Spelling and punctuation have been modernized.


   Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences

           Nothing requires greater nicety, in our enquiries concerning
           human affairs, than to distinguish exactly what is owing to
           chance, and what proceeds from causes; nor is there any
           subject, in which an author is more liable to deceive himself
           by false subtilties and refinements. To say, that any event is
           derived from chance, cuts short all farther enquiry concerning
           it, and leaves the writer in the same state of ignorance with
           the rest of mankind. But when the event is supposed to proceed
           from certain and stable causes, he may then display his
           ingenuity, in assigning these causes; and as a man of any
           subtilty can never be at a loss in this particular, he has
           thereby an opportunity of swelling his volumes, and
           discovering his profound knowledge, in observing what escapes
           the vulgar and ignorant.

           The distinguishing between chance and causes must depend upon
           every particular man's sagacity, in considering every
           particular incident. But, if I were to assign any general rule
           to help us in applying this distinction, it would be the
           following, What depends upon a few persons is, in a great
           measure, to be ascribed to chance, or secret and unknown
           causes: What arises from a great number, may often be
           accounted for by determinate and known causes.

           Two natural reasons may. be assigned for this rule. First, If
           you suppose a dye to have any biass, however small, to a
           particular side, this biass, though, perhaps, it may not
           appear in a few throws, will certainly prevail in a great
           number, and will cast the balance entirely to that side. In
           like manner, when any causes beget a particular inclination or
           passion, at a certain time, and among a certain people; though
           many individuals may escape the contagion, and be ruled by
           passions peculiar to themselves; yet the multitude will
           certainly be seized by the common affection, and be governed
           by it in all their actions.

           Secondly, Those principles of causes, which are fitted to
           operate on a multitude, are always of a grosser and more
           stubborn nature, less subject to accidents, and less
           influenced by whim and private fancy, than those which operate
           on a few only. The latter are commonly so delicate and
           refined, that the smallest incident in the health, education,
           or fortune of a particular person, is sufficient to divert
           their course, and retard their operation; nor is it possible
           to reduce them to any general maxims or observations. Their
           influence at one time will never assure us concerning their
           influence at another; even though all the general
           circumstances should be the same in both cases.

           To judge by this rule, the domestic and the gradual
           revolutions of a state must be a more proper subject of
           reasoning and observation, than the foreign and the violent,
           which are commonly produced by single persons, and are more
           influenced by whim, folly, or caprice, than by general
           passions and interests. The depression of the lords, and rise
           of the commons in England, after the statutes of alienation
           and the encrease of trade and industry, are more easily
           accounted for by general principles, than the depression of
           the Spanish, and rise of the French monarchy, after the death
           of Charles V. Had Harry IV, Cardinal Richlieu and Louis XIV
           been Spaniards; and Philip II, III, and IV, and Charles II
           been Frenchmen, the history of these two nations had been
           entirely reversed.

           For the same reason, it is more easy to account for the rise
           and progress of commerce in any kingdom, than for that of
           learning; and a state, which should apply itself to the
           encouragement of the one, would be more assured of success,
           than one which should cultivate the other. Avarice, or the
           desire of gain, is an universal passion, which operates at all
           times, in all places, and upon all persons: But curiosity, or
           the love of knowledge, has a very limited influence, and
           requires youth, leisure, education, genius, and example, to
           make it govern any person. You will never want booksellers,
           while there are buyers of books: But there may frequently be
           readers where there are no authors. Multitudes of people,
           necessity and liberty, have begotten commerce in Holland: But
           study and application have scarcely produced any eminent

           We may, therefore, conclude, that there is no subject, in
           which we must proceed with more caution, than in tracing the
           history of the arts and sciences; lest we assign causes which
           never existed, and reduce what is merely contingent to stable
           and universal principles. Those who cultivate the sciences in
           any state, are always few in number: The passion, which
           governs them, limited: Their taste and judgment delicate and
           easily perverted: And their application disturbed with the
           smallest accident. Chance, therefore, or secret and unknown
           causes, must have a great influence on the rise and progress
           of all the refined arts.

           But there is a reason, which induces me not to ascribe the
           matter altogether to chance. Though the persons, who cultivate
           the sciences with such astonishing success, as to attract the
           admiration of posterity, be always few, in all nations and all
           ages; it is impossible but a share of the same spirit and
           genius must be antecedently diffused throughout the people
           among whom they arise, in order to produce, form, and
           cultivate, from their earliest infancy, the taste and judgment
           of those eminent writers. The mass cannot be altogether
           insipid, from which such refined spirits are extracted. 'There
           is a God within us,' says OVID, 'who breathes that divine
           fire, by which we are animated.'[2] Poets, in all ages, have
           advanced this claim to inspiration. There is not, however, any
           thing supernatural in the case. Their fire is not kindled from
           heaven. It only runs along the earth; is caught from one
           breast to another; and burns brightest, where the materials
           are best prepared, and most happily disposed. The question,
           therefore, concerning the rise and progress of the arts and
           sciences, is not altogether a question concerning the taste,
           genius, and spirit of a few, but concerning those of a whole
           people; and may, therefore, be accounted for, in some measure,
           by general causes and principles. I grant, that a man, who
           should enquire, why such a particular poet, as Homer for
           instance, existed, at such a place, in such a time, would
           throw himself headlong into chimaera, and could never treat of
           such a subject, without a multitude of false subtilties and
           refinements. He might as well pretend to give a reason, why
           such particular generals, as Fabius and Scipio, lived in Rome
           at such a time, and why Fabius came into the world before
           Scipio. For such incidents as these, no other reason can be
           given than that of Horace:

           Scit genius, natale comes, qui temperat astrum,
           Naturae Deus humanae, mortalis in unum...
           ...Quodque caput, vultu mutabilis, albus et ater.

           But I am persuaded, that in many cases good reasons might be
           given, why such a nation is more polite and learned at a
           particular time, than any of its neighbours. At least, this is
           so curious a subject, that it were a pity to abandon it
           entirely, before we have found whether it be susceptible of
           reasoning, and can be reduced to any general principles.

           My first observation on this head is, That it is impossible
           for the arts and sciences to arise, at first, among any people
           unless that people enjoy the blessing of a free government.

           In the first ages of the world, when men are as yet barbarous
           and ignorant, they seek no farther security against mutual
           violence and injustice, than the choice of some rulers, few or
           many, in whom they place an implicit confidence, without
           providing any security, by laws or political institutions,
           against the violence and injustice of these rulers. If the
           authority be centered in a single person, and if the people,
           either by conquest, or by the ordinary course of propagation,
           encrease to a great multitude, the monarch, finding it
           impossible, in his own person, to execute every office of
           sovereignty, in every place, must delegate his authority to
           inferior magistrates, who preserve peace and order in their
           respective districts. As experience and education have not yet
           refined the judgments of men to any considerable degree, the
           prince, who is himself unrestrained, never dreams of
           restraining his ministers, but delegates his full authority to
           every one, whom he sets over any portion of the people. All
           general laws are attended with inconveniencies, when applied
           to particular cases; and it requires great penetration and
           experience, both to perceive that these inconveniencies are
           fewer than what result from full discretionary powers in every
           magistrate; and also to discern what general laws are, upon
           the whole, attended with fewest inconveniencies. This is a
           matter of so great difficulty, that men may have made some
           advances, even in the sublime arts of poetry and eloquence,
           where a rapidity of genius and imagination assist their
           progress, before they have arrived at any great refinement in
           their municipal laws, where frequent trials and diligent
           observation can alone direct their improvements. It is not,
           therefore, to be supposed, that a barbarous monarch,
           unrestrained and uninstructed, will ever become a legislator,
           or think of restraining his Bashaws, in every province, or
           even his Cadis in every village. We are told, that the late
           Czar, though actuated with a noble genius, and smit with the
           love and admiration of European arts; yet professed an esteem
           for the Turkish policy in this particular, and approved of
           such summary decisions of causes, as are practised in that
           barbarous monarchy, where the judges are not restrained by any
           methods, forms, or laws. He did not perceive, how contrary
           such a practice would have been to all his other endeavours
           for refining his people. Arbitrary power, in all cases, is
           somewhat oppressive and debasing; but it is altogether ruinous
           and intolerable, when contracted into a small compass; and
           becomes still worse, when the person, who possesses it, knows
           that the time of his authority is limited and uncertain.
           'Habet subjectos tanquam suos; viles, ut alienos.'[3] He
           governs the subjects with full authority, as if they were his
           own; and with negligence or tyranny, as belonging to another.
           A people, governed after such a manner, are slaves in the full
           and proper sense of the word; and it is impossible they can
           ever aspire to any refinements or taste of reason. They dare
           not so much as pretend to enjoy the necessaries of life in
           plenty or security.

           To expect, therefore, that the arts and sciences should take
           their first rise in a monarchy, is to expect a contradiction.
           Before these refinements have taken place, the monarch is
           ignorant and uninstructed; and not having knowledge sufficient
           to make him sensible of the necessity of balancing his
           government upon general laws, he delegates his full power to
           all inferior magistrates. This barbarous policy debases the
           people, and for ever prevents all improvements. Were it
           possible, that, before science were known in the world, a
           monarch could possess so much wisdom as to become a
           legislator, and govern his people by law, not by the arbitrary
           will of their fellow-subjects, it might be possible for that
           species of government to be the first nursery of arts and
           sciences. But that supposition seems scarcely to be consistent
           or rational.

           It may happen, that a republic, in its infant state, may be
           supported by as few laws as a barbarous monarchy, and may
           entrust as unlimited an authority to its magistrates or
           judges. But, besides that the frequent elections by the
           people, are a considerable check upon authority; it is
           impossible, but, in time, the necessity of restraining the
           magistrates, in order to preserve liberty, must at last
           appear, and give rise to general laws and statutes. The Roman
           Consuls, for some time, decided all causes, without being
           confined by any positive statutes, till the people, bearing
           this yoke with impatience, created the decemvirs, who
           promulgated the twelve tables; a body of laws, which, though,
           perhaps, they were not equal in bulk to one English act of
           parliament, were almost the only written rules, which
           regulated property and punishment, for some ages, in that
           famous republic. They were, however, sufficient, together with
           the forms of a free government, to secure the lives and
           properties of the citizens, to exempt one man from the
           dominion of another; and to protect every one against the
           violence or tyranny of his fellow-citizens. In such a
           situation the sciences may raise their heads and flourish: But
           never can have being amidst such a scene of oppression and
           slavery, as always results from barbarous monarchies, where
           the people alone are restrained by the authority of the
           magistrates, and the magistrates are not restrained by any law
           or statute. An unlimited despotism of this nature, while it
           exists, effectually puts a stop to all improvements, and keeps
           men from attaining that knowledge, which is requisite to
           instruct them in the advantages, arising from a better police,
           and more moderate authority.

           Here then are the advantages of free states. Though a republic
           should be barbarous, it necessarily, by an infallible
           operation, gives rise to Law, even before mankind have made
           any considerable advances in the other sciences. From law
           arises security: From security curiosity: And from curiosity
           knowledge. The latter steps of this progress may be more
           accidental; but the former are altogether necessary. A
           republic without laws can never have any duration. On the
           contrary, in a monarchical government, law arises not
           necessarily from the forms of government. Monarchy, when
           absolute, contains even something repugnant to law. Great
           wisdom and reflection can alone reconcile them. But such a
           degree of wisdom can never be expected, before the greater
           refinements and improvements of human reason. These
           refinements require curiosity, security, and law. The first
           growth, therefore, of the arts and sciences can never be
           expected in despotic governments.

           There are other causes, which discourage the rise of the
           refined arts in despotic governments; though I take the want
           of laws, and the delegation of full powers to every petty
           magistrate, to be the principal. Eloquence certainly springs
           up more naturally in popular governments: Emulation too in
           every accomplishment must there be more animated and
           enlivened: And genius and capacity have a fuller scope and
           career. All these causes render free governments the only
           proper nursery for the arts and sciences.

           The next observation, which I shall make on this head, is,
           That nothing is more favourable to the rise of politeness and
           learning, than a number of neighbouring and independent
           states, connected together by commerce and policy. The
           emulation, which naturally arises among those neighbouring
           states, is an obvious source of improvement: But what I would
           chiefly insist on is the stop, which such limited territories
           give both to power and to authority.

           Extended governments, where a single person has great
           influence, soon become absolute; but small ones change
           naturally into commonwealths. A large government is accustomed
           by degrees to tyranny; because each act of violence is at
           first performed upon a part, which, being distant from the
           majority, is not taken notice of, nor excites any violent
           ferment. Besides, a large government, though the whole be
           discontented, may, by a little art, be kept in obedience;
           while each part, ignorant of the resolutions of the rest, is
           afraid to begin any commotion or insurrection. Not to mention,
           that there is a superstitious reverence for princes, which
           mankind naturally contract when they do not often see the
           sovereign, and when many of them become not acquainted with
           him so as to perceive his weaknesses. And as large states can
           afford a great expence, in order to support the pomp of
           majesty; this is a kind of fascination on men, and naturally
           contributes to the enslaving of them.

           In a small government, any act of oppression is immediately
           known throughout the whole: The murmurs and discontents,
           proceeding from it, are easily communicated: And the
           indignation arises the higher, because the subjects are not
           apt to apprehend in such states, that the distance is very
           wide between themselves and their sovereign. 'No man,' said
           the prince of Cond‚, 'is a hero to his Valet de Chambre.' It
           is certain that admiration and acquaintance are altogether
           incompatible towards any mortal creature. Sleep and love
           convinced even Alexander himself that he was not a God: But I
           suppose that such as daily attended him could easily, from the
           numberless weaknesses to which he was subject, have given him
           many still more convincing proofs of his humanity.

           But the divisions into small states are favourable to
           learning, by stopping the progress of authority as well as
           that of power. Reputation is often as great a fascination upon
           men as sovereignty, and is equally destructive to the freedom
           of thought and examination. But where a number of neighbouring
           states have a great intercourse of arts and commerce, their
           mutual jealousy keeps them from receiving too lightly the law
           from each other, in matters of taste and of reasoning, and
           makes them examine every work of art with the greatest care
           and accuracy. The contagion of popular opinion spreads not so
           easily from one place to another. It readily receives a check
           in some state or other, where it concurs not with the
           prevailing prejudices. And nothing but nature and reason, or,
           at least, what bears them a strong resemblance, can force its
           way through all obstacles, and unite the most rival nations
           into an esteem and admiration of it.

           Greece was a cluster of little principalities, which soon
           became republics; and being united both by their near
           neighbourhood, and by the ties of the same language and
           interest, they entered into the closest intercourse of
           commerce and learning. There concurred a happy climate, a soil
           not unfertile, and a most harmonious and comprehensive
           language; so that every circumstance among that people seemed
           to favour the rise of the arts and sciences. Each city
           produced its several artists and philosophers, who refused to
           yield the preference to those of the neighbouring republics:
           Their contention and debates sharpened the wits of men: A
           variety of objects was presented to the judgment, while each
           challenged the preference to the rest: and the sciences, not
           being dwarfed by the restraint of authority, were enabled to
           make such considerable shoots, as are, even at this time, the
           objects of our admiration. After the Roman christian, or
           catholic church had spread itself over the civilized world,
           and had engrossed all the learning of the times; being really
           one large state within itself, and united under one head; this
           variety of sects immediately disappeared, and the Peripatetic
           philosophy was alone admitted into all the schools, to the
           utter depravation of every kind of learning. But mankind,
           having at length thrown off this yoke, affairs are now
           returned nearly to the same situation as before, and Europe is
           at present a copy at large, of what Greece was formerly a
           pattern in miniature. We have seen the advantage of this
           situation in several instances. What checked the progress of
           the Cartesian philosophy, to which the French nation shewed
           such a strong propensity towards the end of the last century,
           but the opposition made to it by the other nations of Europe,
           who soon discovered the weak sides of that philosophy? The
           severest scrutiny, which Newton's theory has undergone,
           proceeded not from his own countrymen, but from foreigners;
           and if it can overcome the obstacles, which it meets with at
           present in all parts of Europe, it will probably go down
           triumphant to the latest posterity. The English are become
           sensible of the scandalous licentiousness of their stage, from
           the example of the French decency and morals. The French are
           convinced, that their theatre has become somewhat effeminate,
           by too much love and gallantry; and begin to approve of the
           more masculine taste of some neighbouring nations.

           In China, there seems to be a pretty considerable stock of
           politeness and science, which, in the course of so many
           centuries, might naturally be expected to ripen into some
           thing more perfect and finished, than what has yet arisen from
           them. But China is one vast empire, speaking one language,
           governed by one law, and sympathizing in the same manners. The
           authority of any teacher, such as Confucius, was propagated
           easily from one corner of the empire to the other. None had
           courage to resist the torrent of popular opinion. And
           posterity was not bold enough to dispute what had been
           universally received by their ancestors. This seems to be one
           natural reason, why the sciences have made so slow a progress
           in that mighty empire.[4]

           If we consider the face of the globe, Europe, of all the four
           parts of the world, is the most broken by seas, rivers, and
           mountains; and Greece of all countries of Europe. Hence these
           regions were naturally divided into several distinct
           governments. And hence the sciences arose in Greece; and
           Europe has been hitherto the most constant habitation of them.

           I have sometimes been inclined to think, that interruptions in
           the periods of learning, were they not attended with such a
           destruction of ancient books, and the records of history,
           would be rather favourable to the arts and sciences, by
           breaking the progress of authority, and dethroning the
           tyrannical usurpers over human reason. In this particular,
           they have the same influence, as interruptions in political
           governments and societies. Consider the blind submission of
           the ancient philosophers to the several masters in each
           school, and you will be convinced, that little good could be
           expected from a hundred centuries of such a servile
           philosophy. Even the Eclectics, who arose about the age of
           Augustus, notwithstanding their professing to chuse freely
           what pleased them from every different sect, were yet, in the
           main, as slavish and dependent as any of their brethren since
           they sought for truth not in nature, but in the several
           schools; where they supposed she must necessarily be found,
           though not united in a body, yet dispersed in parts. Upon the
           revival of learning, those sects of Stoics and Epicureans,
           Platonists and Pythagoricians, could never regain any credit
           or authority; and, at the same time, by the example of their
           fall, kept men from submitting, with such blind deference, to
           those new sects, which have attempted to gain an ascendant
           over them.

           The third observation, which I shall form on this head, of the
           rise and progress of the arts and sciences, is, That though
           the only proper Nursery of these noble plants be a free state;
           yet may they be transplanted into any government; and that a
           republic is most favourable to the growth of the sciences, a
           civilized monarchy to that of the polite arts.

           To balance a large state or society, whether monarchical or
           republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty,
           that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able, by the
           mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The
           judgments of many must unite in this work: Experience must
           guide their labour: Time must bring it to perfection: And the
           feeling of inconveniencies must correct the mistakes, which
           they inevitably fall into, in their first trials and
           experiments. Hence appears the impossibility, that this
           undertaking should be begun and carried on in any monarchy;
           since such a form of government, ere civilized, knows no other
           secret or policy, than that of entrusting unlimited powers to
           every governor or magistrate, and subdividing the people into
           so many classes and orders of slavery. From such a situation,
           no improvement can ever be expected in the sciences, in the
           liberal arts, in laws, and scarcely in the manual arts and
           manufactures. The same barbarism and ignorance, with which the
           government commences, is propagated to all posterity, and can
           never come to a period by the efforts or ingenuity of such
           unhappy slaves.

           But though law, the source of all security and happiness,
           arises late in any government, and is the slow product of
           order and of liberty, it is not preserved with the same
           difficulty with which it is produced; but when it has once
           taken root, is a hardy plant, which will scarcely ever perish
           through the ill culture of men, or the rigour of the seasons.
           The arts of luxury, and much more the liberal arts, which
           depend on a refined taste or sentiment, are easily lost;
           because they are always relished by a few only, whose leisure,
           fortune, and genius fit them for such amusements. But what is
           profitable to every mortal, and in common life, when once
           discovered, can scarcely fall into oblivion, but by the total
           subversion of society, and by such furious inundations of
           barbarous invaders, as obliterate all memory of former arts
           and civility. Imitation also is apt to transport these coarser
           and more useful arts from one climate to another, and make
           them precede the refined arts in their progress; though
           perhaps they sprang after them in their first rise and
           propagation. From these causes proceed civilized monarchies;
           where the arts of government, first invented in free states,
           are preserved to the mutual advantage and security of
           sovereign and subject.

           However perfect, therefore, the monarchical form may appear to
           some politicians, it owes all its perfection to the
           republican; nor is it possible, that a pure despotism,
           established among a barbarous people, can ever, by its native
           force and energy, refine and polish itself. It must borrow its
           laws, and methods, and institutions, and consequently its
           stability and order, from free governments. These advantages
           are the sole growth of republics. The extensive despotism of a
           barbarous monarchy, by entering into the detail of the
           government, as well as into the principal points of
           administration, for ever prevents all such improvement.

           In a civilized monarchy, the prince alone is unrestrained in
           the exercise of his authority, and possesses alone a power,
           which is not bounded by any thing but custom, example, and the
           sense of his own interest. Every minister or magistrate,
           however eminent, must submit to the general laws, which govern
           the whole society, and must exert the authority delegated to
           him after the manner, which is prescribed. The people depend
           on none but their sovereign, for the security of their
           property. He is so far removed from them, and is so much
           exempt from private jealousies or interests, that this
           dependence is scarcely felt. And thus a species of government
           arises, to which, in a high political rant, we may give the
           name of Tyranny, but which, by a just and prudent
           administration, may afford tolerable security to the people,
           and may answer most of the ends of political society.

           But though in a civilized monarchy, as well as in a republic,
           the people have security for the enjoyment of their property;
           yet in both these forms of government, those who possess the
           supreme authority have the disposal of many honours and
           advantages, which excite the ambition and avarice of mankind.
           The only difference is, that, in a republic, the candidates
           for office must look downwards, to gain the suffrages of the
           people; in a monarchy, they must turn their attention upwards,
           to court the good graces and favour of the great. To be
           successful in the former way, it is necessary for a man to
           make himself useful, by his industry, capacity, or knowledge:
           To be prosperous in the latter way, it is requisite for him to
           render himself agreeable, by his wit, complaisance, or
           civility. A strong genius succeeds best in republics: A
           refined taste in monarchies. And consequently the sciences are
           the more natural growth of the one, and the polite arts of the

           Not to mention, that monarchies, receiving their chief
           stability from a superstitious reverence to priests and
           princes, have commonly abridged the liberty of reasoning, with
           regard to religion, and politics, and consequently metaphysics
           and morals. All these form the most considerable branches of
           science. Mathematics and natural philosophy, which only
           remain, are not half so valuable.

           Among the arts of conversation, no one pleases more than
           mutual deference or civility, which leads us to resign our own
           inclinations to those of our companion, and to curb and
           conceal that presumption and arrogance, so natural to the
           human mind. A good-natured man, who is well educated,
           practises this civility to every mortal, without premeditation
           or interest. But in order to render that valuable quality
           general among any people, it seems necessary to assist the
           natural disposition by some general motive. Where power rises
           upwards from the people to the great, as in all republics,
           such refinements of civility are apt to be little practised;
           since the whole state is, by that means, brought near to a
           level, and every member of it is rendered, in a great measure,
           independent of another. The people have the advantage, by the
           authority of their suffrages: The great, by the superiority of
           their station. But in a civilized monarchy, there is a long
           train of dependence from the prince to the peasant, which is
           not great enough to render property precarious, or depress the
           minds of the people; but is sufficient to beget in every one
           an inclination to please his superiors, and to form himself
           upon those models, which are most acceptable to people of
           condition and education. Politeness of manners, therefore,
           arises most naturally in monarchies and courts; and where that
           flourishes, none of the liberal arts will be altogether
           neglected or despised.

           The republics in Europe are at present noted for want of
           politeness. The good-manners of a Swiss civilized in Holland,[5]
           is an expression for rusticity among the French. The English,
           in some degree, fall under the same censure, notwithstanding
           their learning and genius. And if the Venetians be an
           exception to the rule, they owe it, perhaps, to their
           communication with the other Italians, most of whose
           governments beget a dependence more than sufficient for
           civilizing their manners.

           It is difficult to pronounce any judgment concerning the
           refinements of the ancient republics in this particular: But I
           am apt to suspect, that the arts of conversation were not
           brought so near to perfection among them as the arts of
           writing and composition. The scurrility of the ancient
           orators, in many instances, is quite shocking, and exceeds all
           belief. Vanity too is often not a little offensive in authors
           of those ages;[6] as well as the common licentiousness and
           immodesty of their stile, Quicunque impudicus, adulter, ganeo,
           manu, ventre, pene, bona patria laceraverat, says Sallust in
           one of the gravest and most moral passages of his history. Nam
           fuit ante Helenam Cunnus teterrima belli Causa, is an
           expression of Horace, in tracing the origin of moral good and
           evil. Ovid and Lucretius[7] are almost as licentious in their
           stile as Lord Rochester; though the former were fine gentlemen
           and delicate writers, and the latter, from the corruptions of
           that court, in which he lived, seems to have thrown off all
           regard to shame and decency. Juvenal inculcates modesty with
           great zeal; but sets a very bad example of it if we consider
           the impudence of his expressions.

           I shall also be bold to affirm, that among the ancients, there
           was not much delicacy of breeding, or that polite deference
           and respect, which civility obliges us either to express or
           counterfeit towards the persons with whom we converse. Cicero
           was certainly one of the finest gentlemen of his age; yet I
           must confess I have frequently been shocked with the poor
           figure under which he represents his friend Atticus, in those
           dialogues, where he himself is introduced as a speaker. That
           learned and virtuous Roman, whose dignity, though he was only
           a private gentleman, was inferior to that of no one in Rome,
           is there shewn in rather a more pitiful light than
           Philalethe's friend in our modern dialogues. He is a humble
           admirer of the orator, pays him frequent compliments, and
           receives his instructions, with all the deference which a
           scholar owes to his master.[8] Even Cato is treated in
           somewhat of a cavalier manner in the dialogues de finibus.

           One of the most particular details of a real dialogue, which
           we meet with in antiquity, is related by Polybius;[9] when
           Philip, king of Macedon, a prince of wit and parts, met with
           Titus Flaminius, one of the politest of the Romans, as we
           learn from Plutarch,[10] accompanied with ambassadors from
           almost all the Greek cities. The Aetolian ambassador very
           abruptly tells the king, that he talked like a fool or a
           madman (lhrein). 'That's evident,' says his majesty, 'even to
           a blind man'; which was a raillery on the blindness of his
           excellency. Yet all this did not pass the usual bounds: For
           the conference was not disturbed; and Flaminius was very well
           diverted with these strokes of humour. At the end, when Philip
           craved a little time to consult with his friends, of whom he
           had none present, the Roman general, being desirous also to
           shew his wit, as the historian says, tells him, 'that perhaps
           the reason, why he had none of his friends with him, was
           because he had murdered them all'; which was actually the
           case. This unprovoked piece of rusticity is not condemned by
           the historian; caused no farther resentment in Philip, than to
           excite a Sardonian smile, or what we call a grin; and hindered
           him not from renewing the conference next day. Plutarch[11]
           too mentions this raillery amongst the witty and agreeable
           sayings of Flaminius.

           Cardinal Wolsey apologized for his famous piece of insolence,
           in saying, 'Ego et Rex meus', I and my king, by observing,
           that this expression was conformable to the Latin idiom, and
           that a Roman always named himself before the person to whom,
           or of whom he spake. Yet this seems to have been an instance
           of want of civility among that people. The ancients made it a
           rule, that the person of the greatest dignity should be
           mentioned first in the discourse; insomuch, that we find the
           spring of a quarrel and jealousy between the Romans and
           Aetolians, to have been a poet's naming the Aetolians before
           the Romans, in celebrating a victory gained by their united
           arms over the Macedonians.[12] Thus Livia disgusted Tiberius
           by placing her own name before his in an inscription.[13]

           No advantages in this world are pure and unmixed. In like
           manner, as modern politeness, which is naturally so
           ornamental, runs often into affectation and foppery, disguise
           and insincerity; so the ancient simplicity, which is naturally
           so amiable and affecting, often degenerates into rusticity and
           abuse, scurrility and obscenity.

           If the superiority in politeness should be allowed to modern
           times, the modern notions of gallantry, the natural produce of
           courts and monarchies, will probably be assigned as the causes
           of this refinement. No one denies this invention to be
           modern:[14] But some of the more zealous partizans of the
           ancients, have asserted it to be foppish and ridiculous, and a
           reproach, rather than a credit, to the present age.[15] It may
           here be proper to examine this question.

           Nature has implanted in all living creatures an affection
           between the sexes, which, even in the fiercest and most
           rapacious animals, is not merely confined to the satisfaction
           of the bodily appetite, but begets a friendship and mutual
           sympathy, which runs through the whole tenor of their lives.
           Nay, even in those species, where nature limits the indulgence
           of this appetite to one season and to one object, and forms a
           kind of marriage or association between a single male and
           female, there is yet a visible complacency and benevolence,
           which extends farther, and mutually softens the affections of
           the sexes towards each other. How much more must this have
           place in man, where the confinement of the appetite is not
           natural; but either is derived accidentally from some strong
           charm of love, or arises from reflections on duty and
           convenience? Nothing, therefore, can proceed less from
           affectation than the passion of gallantry. It is natural in
           the highest degree. Art and education, in the most elegant
           courts, make no more alteration on it, than on all the other
           laudable passions. They only turn the mind more towards it;
           they refine it; they polish it; and give it a proper grace and

           But gallantry is as generous as it is natural. To correct such
           gross vices, as lead us to commit real injury on others, is
           the part of morals, and the object of the most ordinary
           education. Where that is not attended to, in some degree, no
           human society can subsist. But in order to render
           conversation, and the intercourse of minds more easy and
           agreeable, good-manners have been invented, and have carried
           the matter somewhat farther. Wherever nature has given the
           mind a propensity to any vice, or to any passion disagreeable
           to others, refined breeding has taught men to throw the biass
           on the opposite side, and to preserve, in all their behaviour,
           the appearance of sentiments different from those to which
           they naturally incline. Thus, as we are commonly proud and
           selfish, and apt to assume the preference above others, a
           polite man learns to behave with deference towards his
           companions, and to yield the superiority to them in all the
           common incidents of society. In like manner, wherever a
           person's situation may naturally beget any disagreeable
           suspicion in him, it is the part of good-manners to prevent
           it, by a studied display of sentiments, directly contrary to
           those of which he is apt to be jealous. Thus, old men know
           their infirmities, and naturally dread contempt from the
           youth: Hence, well-educated youth redouble the instances of
           respect and deference to their elders. Strangers and
           foreigners are without protection: Hence, in all polite
           countries, they receive the highest civilities, and are
           entitled to the first place in every company. A man is lord in
           his own family, and his guests are, in a manner, subject to
           his authority: Hence, he is always the lowest person in the
           company; attentive to the wants of every one; and giving
           himself all the trouble, in order to please, which may not
           betray too visible an affectation, or impose too much
           constraint on his guests.[16] Gallantry is nothing but an
           instance of the same generous attention. As nature has given
           man the superiority above woman, by endowing him with greater
           strength both of mind and body; it is his part to alleviate
           that superiority, as much as possible, by the generosity of
           his behaviour, and by a studied deference and complaisance for
           all her inclinations and opinions. Barbarous nations display
           this superiority, by reducing their females to the most abject
           slavery; by confining them, by beating them, by selling them,
           by killing them. But the male sex, among a polite people,
           discover their authority in a more generous, though not a less
           evident manner; by civility, by respect, by complaisance, and,
           in a word, by gallantry. In good company, you need not ask,
           Who is the master of the feast? The man, who sits in the
           lowest place, and who is always industrious in helping every
           one, is certainly the person. We must either condemn all such
           instances of generosity, as foppish and affected, or admit of
           gallantry among the rest. The ancient Muscovites wedded their
           wives with a whip, instead of a ring. The same people, in
           their own houses, took always the precedency above foreigners,
           even[17] foreign ambassadors. These two instances of their
           generosity and politeness are much of a piece.

           Gallantry is not less compatible with wisdom and prudence,
           than with nature and generosity; and when under proper
           regulations, contributes more than any other invention, to the
           entertainment and improvement of the youth of both sexes.
           Among every species of animals, nature has founded on the love
           between the sexes their sweetest and best enjoyment. But the
           satisfaction of the bodily appetite is not alone sufficient to
           gratify the mind; and even among brute-creatures, we find,
           that their play and dalliance, and other expressions of
           fondness, form the greatest part of the entertainment. In
           rational beings, we must certainly admit the mind for a
           considerable share. Were we to rob the feast of all its
           garniture of reason, discourse, sympathy, friendship, and
           gaiety, what remains would scarcely be worth acceptance, in
           the judgment of the truly elegant and luxurious.

           What better school for manners, than the company of virtuous
           women; where the mutual endeavour to please must insensibly
           polish the mind, where the example of the female softness and
           modesty must communicate itself to their admirers, and where
           the delicacy of that sex puts every one on his guard, lest he
           give offence by any breach of decency.

           Among the ancients, the character of the fair-sex was
           considered as altogether domestic; nor were they regarded as
           part of the polite world or of good company. This, perhaps, is
           the true reason why the ancients have not left us one piece of
           pleasantry that is excellent, (unless one may except the
           Banquet of Xenophon, and the Dialogues of Lucian) though many
           of their serious compositions are altogether inimitable.
           Horace condemns the coarse railleries and cold jests of
           Plautus: But, though the most easy, agreeable, and judicious
           writer in the world, is his own talent for ridicule very
           striking or refined? This, therefore, is one considerable
           improvement, which the polite arts have received from
           gallantry, and from courts, where it first arose.

           But, to return from this digression, I shall advance it as a
           fourth observation on this subject, of the rise and progress
           of the arts and sciences, that when the arts and sciences come
           to perfection in any state, from that moment they naturally,
           or rather necessarily decline, and seldom or never revive in
           that nation, where they formerly flourished.

           It must be confessed, that this maxim, though conformable to
           experience, may, at first sight, be esteemed contrary to
           reason. If the natural genius of mankind be the same in all
           ages, and in almost all countries, (as seems to be the truth)
           it must very much forward and cultivate this genius, to be
           possessed of patterns in every art, which may regulate the
           taste, and fix the objects of imitation. The models left us by
           the ancients gave birth to all the arts about 200 years ago,
           and have mightily advanced their progress in every country of
           Europe: Why had they not a like effect during the reign of
           Trajan and his successors; when they were much more entire,
           and were still admired and studied by the whole world? So late
           as the emperor Justinian, the Poet, by way of distinction, was
           understood, among the Greeks, to be Homer; among the Romans,
           Virgil. Such admiration still remained for these divine
           geniuses; though no poet had appeared for many centuries, who
           could justly pretend to have imitated them.

           A man's genius is always, in the beginning of life, as much
           unknown to himself as to others; and it is only after frequent
           trials, attended with success, that he dares think himself
           equal to those undertakings, in which those, who have
           succeeded, have fixed the admiration of mankind. If his own
           nation be already possessed of many models of eloquence, he
           naturally compares his own juvenile exercises with these, and
           being sensible of the great disproportion, is discouraged from
           any farther attempts, and never aims at a rivalship with those
           authors, whom he so much admires. A noble emulation is the
           source of every excellence. Admiration and modesty naturally
           extinguish this emulation. And no one is so liable to an
           excess of admiration and modesty, as a truly great genius.

           Next to emulation, the greatest encourager of the noble arts
           is praise and glory. A writer is animated with new force, when
           he hears the applauses of the world for his former
           productions; and, being roused by such a motive, he often
           reaches a pitch of perfection, which is equally surprizing to
           himself and to his readers. But when the posts of honour are
           all occupied, his first attempts are but coldly received by
           the public; being compared to productions, which are both in
           themselves more excellent, and have already the advantage of
           an established reputation. Were MoliŠre and Corneille to bring
           upon the stage at present their early productions, which were
           formerly so well received, it would discourage the young
           poets, to see the indifference and disdain of the public. The
           ignorance of the age alone could have given admission to the
           Prince of Tyre; but it is to that we owe The Moor: Had Every
           man in his humour been rejected, we had never seen Volpone.

           Perhaps, it may not be for the advantage of any nation to have
           the arts imported from their neighbours in too great
           perfection. This extinguishes emulation, and sinks the ardour
           of the generous youth. So many models of Italian painting
           brought into England, instead of exciting our artists, is the
           cause of their small progress in that noble art. The same,
           perhaps, was the case of Rome, when it received the arts from
           Greece. That multitude of polite productions in the French
           language, dispersed all over Germany and the North, hinder
           these nations from cultivating their own language, and keep
           them still dependent on their neighbours for those elegant

           It is true, the ancients had left us models in every kind of
           writing, which are highly worthy of admiration. But besides
           that they were written in languages, known only to the
           learned; besides this, I say, the comparison is not so perfect
           or entire between modern wits, and those who lived in so
           remote an age. Had Waller been born in Rome, during the reign
           of Tiberius, his first productions had been despised, when
           compared to the finished odes of Horace. But in this island
           the superiority of the Roman poet diminished nothing from the
           fame of the English. We esteemed ourselves sufficiently happy,
           that our climate and language could produce but a faint copy
           of so excellent an original.

           In short, the arts and sciences, like some plants, require a
           fresh soil; and however rich the land may be, and however you
           may recruit it by art or care, it will never, when once
           exhausted, produce any thing that is perfect or finished in
           the kind.


           [1][COPYRIGHT: (c) 1995, Christopher MacLachlan (cjmm@st-
 , all rights reserved. Unaltered copies of this
           computer text file may be freely distribute for personal and
           classroom use. Alterations to this file are permitted only for
           purposes of computer printouts, although altered computer text
           files may not circulate. Except to cover nominal distribution
           costs, this file cannot be sold without written permission
           from the copyright holder.When quoting from this text, please
           use the following citation: The Writings of David Hume, ed.
           James Fieser (Internet Release 1995)

   EDITORIAL CONVENTIONS: Note references ar contained within square
   brackets (e.g., [1]). Spelling an punctuation have been modernized

           [2]Est Deus in nobis; agitante calescimus illo:

           Impetus hic, sacrae semina mentis habet.

           Ovid, Fast. lib, vi, 5.

           [3]Tacitus, hist. lib. i, 37.

           [4]If it be asked how we can reconcile to the foregoing
           principles the happiness, riches, and good police of the
           Chinese, who have always been governed by a sole monarch, and
           can scarce form an idea of a free government; I would answer,
           that tho' the Chinese government be a pure monarchy, it is
           not, properly speaking, absolute. This proceeds from a
           peculiarity of the situation of that country: They have no
           neighbours, except the Tartars, from whom they wer, in some
           measure secured, at least seemed to be secured, by their
           famous wall, and by the great superioritv of their numbers. By
           this means, military discipline has always been much neglected
           amongst them, and their standing forces are mere militia, of
           the worst kind; and unfit to suppress any general insurrection
           in countries so extremely populous. The sword, therefore, may
           properly be said to be always in the hands of the poople,
           which is a sufficient restraint upon the monarch, and obliges
           him to lay his mandarins or governors of provinces under the
           restraint of general laws, in order to prevent those
           rebellions, which we learn from history to have been so
           frequent and dangerous in that government. Perhaps, a pure
           monarchy of this kind, were it fitted for a defence against
           foreign enemies, would be the best of all governments, as
           having both the tranquillity attending kingly power, and the
           moderation and liberty of popular assemblies.

           [5]C'est la politesse d'un Suisse

           En Hollande civilis‚.


           [6]It is needless to cite Cicero or Pliny on this head: They
           are too much noted: But one is a little surprised to find
           Arrian, a very grave, judicious writer, interrupt the thread
           of his narration all of a sudden, to tell his readers that he
           himself is as emi nent among the Greeks for eloquence as
           Alexander wasfor arms. Lib. i. 12.

           [7]This poet (see lib. iv. 1175) recommends a very
           extraordinary cure for love, and what one expects not to meet
           with in so elegant and philosophical a poem. It seems to have
           been the original of some of Dr. Swift's images. The elegant
           Catullus and Phaedrus fall under the same censure.

           [8]Att. Non mihi videtur ad beate vivendum satis esse
           virtutem. Mar. At hercule Bruto meo videtur; cujus ego
           judicium, pace tua dixerim, longe antepono tuo. Tusc. Quaest.
           lib. v. 5.

           [9]Lib. xvii. 4.

           [10]In vita Flamin., c. 2.

           [11] Plut. in vita Flamin. c. 17.

           [12]Plut. in vita Flamin. c. 9.

           [13]Tacit., Ann. lib. iii. cap. 64.

           [14]In the Self-Tormentor of Terence, Clinias, whenever he
           comes to town, instead of waiting on his mistress, sends for
           her to come to him.

           [15]Lord Shaftesbury, see his Moralists.

           [16]The frequent mention in ancient authors of that ill-bred
           custom of the master of the family's eating better bread or
           drinking better wine at table than he afforded his guests, is
           but an indifferent mark of the civility of those ages. See
           Juvenal, sat. 5, Plinii lib. xiv. cap. 13. Also Plinii Epist.
           Lucian de mercede conductis, Saturnalia, etc. There is
           scarcely any part of Europe at present so uncivilized as to
           admit of such a custom.

           [17]See Relation of three Embassies, by the Earl of Carlisle.

   © 1996


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