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So, in spite of palliations, and remedies, and new improvements, the pauperism consequent upon the principles of Roman civilization, and the debasement and discontent and disorganization consequent upon the necessary resort to public relief, when private virtues and sympathies and affections became extinct, continued to be an increasing instrument for undermining and overthrowing this once vigorous empire, and of torturing it in death.
There is another feature in our poor system, which stands convicted of a resemblance to the Grecian philosophy. Plato recommended that all beggars should be banished from his republic; and we have not only made it criminal to beg relief, but the French Directory declared it a crime to give charity; and we have subscribed to the same law in effect by general consent and understanding.
Another feature of resemblance to Rome is in the great and increasing corruption of our capital cities; which are now generally described as the hotbeds of vice, and the receptacles of rank and fermenting masses of crime and filthiness. The great corruption which we are ready to acknowledge is among the working classes; but independent of the rich being the cause, by their neglect, of this corruption of the lower orders, the selfishness and avarice of our great trading capitalists, and the degradation of the mercantile character to low trick and cunning, and of the habits of trade to practices bordering upon fraud, and to speculation bordering upon gambling, which are increasing, show
that the portrait is growing not only to a likeness of particular features, but to a general resemblance.
Tacitus says of Rome, that there every thing in the world that was foul and infamous resorted, and was habitually practised.*
Sallust relates, that “every one who exceeded the rest of men in depravity and profligacy, all who had lost their patrimony and character in the world, all whom wickedness or disgrace had driven from their homes, found their way to Rome, as to the common sewer of the republic.” +
“Under the name of Roman,” said Bishop Liutprand, “ we include whatever is base, whatever is cowardly, whatever is perfidious, the extremes of avarice and luxury, and every vice that can prostitute the dignity of human nature.” #
Fleury says of the Romans in the fourth century, " that they were immersed in luxury, and delicacy, and prided themselves upon a false refinement.” S
If the stern Roman character could be so dishevelled and debased by riches and power and conquest, let us see whether our own British virtue and honour be not gradually relaxing, and being shattered and dissolved by the luxuries and refinements of wealth, and the pride of prosperity and empire.
Our theatrical representations furnish another parallel with the manners of Rome; which attained in this re
* Tacit. Annal. 15.
spect to a greater profligacy than Greece. Read the following descriptions side by side; and they seem meant for a description of the same state of things. St. Cyprian thus laments the abuse of the Roman stage :
After alluding to the gladiatorial shows, he then turns “ with sorrow and shame to the theatre. It is called stage representation,” he says, “to recount in verse the enormities of former times; the by-gone sin of parricide and incest is unfolded in representation fashioned to the life, lest the crimes which have been perpetrated should be forgotten by the lapse of time. Each succeeding age is reminded by what it hears, that what has been done before, can be committed again ; offences die not with the lapse of ages, crime is not drowned in years, nor wickedness buried in forgetfulness, deeds gone by in the perpetration, still live in the example. In mimic representations, men are drawn on, by lessons of impurity, to review openly what they have done in secret, or to hear told what they may do hereafter. Adultery is learnt, while it is seen; and while this evil, publicly sanctioned, inveigles to vice, the matron returns from the scene, with a loss of the modesty which perchance she took to it.”*
Let us now look again on the modern picture.
In the 50th volume of the Quarterly Review (for March 1834), the state of the French drama is reviewed. The following general description of its character and features there appears. Bastardy, seduction, rape, adultery and incest, as motives—the poniard, poison
• St. Cyprian. Tract on the Grace of God. Altered from the translation in the Library of Fathers, vol. iii.
and prostitution, as means--this is the gamut; and even these original notes they contrive to repeat in the same monotonous succession, borrowing from themselves, and from one another, with the least possible variety of combination.”* The same passage goes on to detail more particularly, the specific facts and instances upon which this description is founded.
M. Frequier also, in his recent work on “The Dangerous Classes of Paris," “ denounces loudly the mischievous tendency of the French drama—the malefactor, as well as the romantic division of it; for our neighbours,” observes the reviewer, "at the present moment ar like ourselves, great admirers of the Newgate style of literature.” And the same reviewer thus describes the similar character and tendency of our own theatres.
“Our ephemeral dramas are many of them mere remodellings of the mass of periodical trash which is now poured out upon us in a still increasing flood-each monthly issue more worthless than the last. How such works can be tolerated by the public is matter of absolute wonderment. Were this vulgarity and vice redeemed by any talent, any development of character, any graces of language, our surprise would be less. The writers of this class have one and only one device for obtaining popular favour—that of conglomerating crimes. Every page must have its two or three catastrophes ; and they dibble in their atrocities, one to every twenty lines, as regularly as if they were planting cauliflowers. With them every thing depends upon the abundance of blood and brains, --and provided the murders, robberies, rapes,
treasons, trials and executions, are sufficiently numerous, and they can get some poor artist to prostitute his pencil for their illustration - the sale is sure to be extensive, and the minor theatres lose no time in dramatizing the new masterpiece."
The gladiatorial shows however, and the fighting with wild beasts, might at least have been expected to form a contrast to the taste and habits of Christian civilization. But the bull-fights were the invention and delight of one of the most civilized ages and nations of Christendom; and above it is said, that, with us, everything depends upon the abundance of blood and brains; and the other day Samuel Scott hung himself (by mistake!) in the presence of three to five thousand English people ; and even now Van Amburgh has been seen, and is to be seen, fighting with wild-beasts, and being torn by them, under the patronage of nobility, and in the midst of admiring and applauding assemblies.
The increasing use and importance of newspapers, and ephemeral literature, is rapidly becoming a counterpart to the Athenian appetite for continually hearing and seeing some new thing. This is the age of newspapers. There never surely was any age so quickly and easily caught by the very phantoms of discovery and invention, the first gusts of news, and the toys of fashion. Geology, craniology, phrenology, mesmerism, electromagnetism, Daguerreotypography, become the prevailing philosophic topic in their turn, in quick succession, and each to be laid aside for some new philosophical mania.
* Quart. Rev. No. 129, p. 39, 40.