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What astonishes me most in the history of the manners of the ancient Romans is, the conspiracy of the Roman women to cause to perish by poison, not only their husbands, but the principal citizens in general. It was, says Titus Livius, in the year 423 from the foundation of Rome, and therefore in the time of the most austere virtue; it was before we heard speak of any divorce, though divorce was authorised; it was when women drank no wine, and scarcely ever went out of their houses, except to the temples. How can we imagine, that they suddenly applied themselves to the knowledge of poisons; that they assembled to compose them; and, without any apparent interest, thus administered death to the first men in Rome ?
Lawrence Echard, in his abridged compilation, contents himself with saying, that “the virtue of the Roman ladies was strangely belied ; that one hundred and seventy who meddled with the art of making poisons, and of reducing this art into precepts, were all at once accused, convicted, and punished.” Titus Livius assuredly does not say, that they reduced this art into rules. That would signify, that they held a school of poisons, that they professed it as a science; which is ridiculous. He says nothing about an hundred and seventy professors in corrosive sublimate and verdigris. Finally, he does not affirm that there were poisoners among the wives of the senators and knights.
The people were extremely foolish, and reasoned at Rome as elsewhere. These are the words of Titus Livius:
“ The year 423 was of the number of unfortunate ones: there was a mortality caused by the temperature of the air or by human malice. I wish that we could affirm with some author, that the corruption of the air caused this epidemic, rather than attribute the death of so many Romans to poison, as many historians have falsely written, to decry this year.
They have therefore written falsely, according to Titus Livius, who believes not that the ladies of Rome were poisoners : but what interest had authors in decrying this year? I know not.
* First decade, book viii,
“ I relate the fact,” continues he, “as it was related before me.
This is not the speech of a satisfied man; besides, the alleged fact much resembles a fable. A slave accuses about seventy women, among whom are several of the patrician rank, of causing the plague in Rome by preparing poisons. Some of the accused demand permission to swallow their drugs and expire on the spot; and their accomplices are condemned to death without the manyer of their punishment being specified.
I suspect that this story to which Titus Livius gives no credit, deserves to be banished to the place in which the vessel is preserved which a vestal drew to shore with her girdle; where Jupiter in person stopped the flight of the Romans; where Castor and Pollux came to combat on horse-back in their behalf; where a flint was cut with a razor; and where Simon Barjonas, surnamed Peter, disputed miracles with Simon the magician.
There is scarcely any poison of which we cannot prevent the consequences by combatting it immediately. There is no medicine which is not a poison when taken in too strong a dose.
All indigestion is a poison.
An ignorant physician, and even a learned but inattentive one, is often a poisoner. A good cook is a certain slow poisoner, if you are not temperate.
One day the marquis d'Argenson, minister of state for the foreign department, whilst his brother was minister of war, received from London a letter from a fool (as ministers do by every post); this fool proposed an infallible means of poisoning all the inhabitants of the capital of England. This does not regard me, said the marquis d'Argenson to us; it is a packet to POLICY. The policy of man consists, at first, in endeavouring to arrive at a state equal to that of animals, whom nature has furnished with food, cloathing, and shelter.
To attain this state is a matter of no little time and difficulty.
How to procure for himself subsistence and accommodation, and protect himself from evil, comprises the whole object and business of man.
This evil exists everywhere; the four elements of nature conspire to form it. The barrenness of one quarter part of the world, the numberless diseases to which we are subject, the multitude of strong and hostile animals by which we are surrounded, oblige us to be constantly on the alert in body and in mind, to guard against the various forms of evil.
No man, by his own individual care and exertion, can secure himself from evil; he requires assistance. Society therefore is as ancient as the world.
This society consists sometimes of too many, and sometimes of too few. The revolutions of the globe have often destroyed whole races of men and other animals, in many countries, and have multiplied them in others.
To enable a species to multiply, a tolerable climate and soil are necessary; and even with these advantages, men may be under the necessity of going unclothed, of suffering hunger, of being destitute of everything, and of perishing in misery.
Men are not like beavers, or bees, or silk-worms; they have no sure and infallible instinct which procures for them necessaries.
Among an hundred men, there is scarcely one that possesses genius; and among women, scarcely one among five hundred.
It is only by means of genius that those arts are invented, which eventually furnish something of that accommodation which is the great object of all policy.
To attempt these arts with success, the assistance
that we may
of others is requisite; hands to aid you, and minds sufficiently acute and unprejudiced to comprehend you, and sufficiently docile to obey you. Before however all this can be discovered and brought together, thousands of
years roll on in ignorance and barbarism; thousands of efforts for improvement terminate only in abortion. At length, the outlines of an art are formed, but thousands of ages are still requisite to carry it to perfection.
Foreign Policy. When any one nation has become acquainted with metallurgy, it will certainly beat its neighbours and make slaves of them. You possess arrows and sabres, and were born in a climate that has rendered you robust. We are weak, and have only clubs and stones. You kill us, or if you permit us to live, it is
your fields and build your houses. We sing some rustic ditty to dissipate your spleen or animate your languor, if we have any voice; or we blow on some pipes, in order to obtain from you clothing and bread. If our wives and daughters are handsome, you appropriate them without scruple to yourselves. The young gentleman, your son, not only takes advantage of the established policy, but adds new discoveries to this growing art. His servants proceed, by his orders, to emasculate my unfortunate boys, whom he then honours with the guardianship of his wives and mistresses. Such has been policy, the great art of making mankind contribute to individual advantage and enjoyment; and such is still policy throughout the largest portion of Asia.
Some nations, or rather hordes, having thus by superior strength and skill brought into subjection others, begin afterwards to fight with one another for the division of the spoil. Each petty nation maintains and pays soldiers. To encourage, and at the same time to control these soldiers, each possesses its gods, its oracles, and prophecies; each maintains and pays its soothsayers and slaughtering priests. These soothsayers or augurs begin with prophecying in favour of the heads of the nation; they afterwards prophecy for themselves, and obtain a share in the government. The most powerful and shrewd prevail at last over the others, after ages of carnage which excite our horror, and of impostures which excite our laughter. Such is the regular course and completion of policy.
While these scenes of ravage and fraud are carried on in one portion of the globe, other nations, or rather clans, retire to mountain caverns, or districts surrounded by inaccessible swamps, marshes, or some verdant and solitary spot in the midst of vast deserts of burning sand; or some peninsular and consequently easily protected territory, to secure themselves against the tyrants of the continent. At length, all become armed with nearly the same description of weapons ; and blood flows from one extremity of the world to the other.
Men however cannot for ever go on killing one another; and peace is consequently made, till either party thinks itself sufficiently strong to recommence the war.
Those who can write draw up these treaties of peace; and the chiefs of every nation, with a view more successfully to impose upon their enemies, invoke the gods to attest with what sincerity they bind themselves to the observance of these compacts.
Oaths of the most solemn character are invented and employed, and one party engages in the name of the great Somonocodom, and the other in that of Jupiter the avenger, to live for ever in peace and amity; while in the same names of Samonocodom and Jupiter, they take the first opportunity of cutting one another's throats.
In times of the greatest civilization and refinement, the lion of Æsop made a treaty with three animals, who were his neighbours. The object was to divide the common spoil into four equal parts. The lion, for certain incontestable and satisfactory reasons which he did not then deem it necessary to detail, but which he should be always ready to give in due time and place, first takes three parts out of the four for himself, and then threatens instant strangulation to whoever shall