Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY OBSERVATIONS.

We now approach an epoch in the history of political literature, of an altogether different cast from what we have hitherto noticed. This is a period of remarkable mental activity; and books of politics, of every variety of form and matter, press upon us from all sides, and solicit our attention and criticism.

There are three great leading events, besides several minor ones, which come across the path of this historical portion of political science, and which gave a remarkable impetus to the spirit of mental inquiry generally; but particularly to matters connected with the civil rights and privileges of mankind. These events are the Protesant Reformation; the Revival of Letters in Europe; and the Discovery of Printing. These are, conjointly, of such a weighty and comprehensive character, and their ramifications and bearings on the intellectual pursuits and social condition of mankind are so various, that they eclipse or overshadow all the other mere secondary causes which mingle themselves with the general results. The first element of change excited the religious spirit to its highest pitch; the revival of letters brought before the ordinary mind of Europe all the political knowledge and

[blocks in formation]

speculation of the early days of Greece and Rome; and the establishment of printing multiplied, to an indefinite extent, the mental labours of authors and politicians of every grade and cast.

The causes of this change have been commonly ascribed, by most English writers, to the gradual influence of several circumstances which took place at this period in the history of Europe. Most of the monarchical institutions had been vastly upon the increase for a century, in consolidating and augmenting their absolute power over the people, and this had obtained such a pitch in many countries, and had directly led to so many and such grievous acts of cruelty and political oppression, that a spirit of opposition was kindled amongst the mass of the people, and this vented itself in the publication of works breathing a decided hatred to tyrannical rulers of all grades, and showing the justice and policy of dethroning them, and even putting them to a violent death. In many of the treatises that will come before us we shall find that no terms were kept with despotic kings or rulers; but the doctrines of open rebellion and direct and speedy vengeance were uncompromisingly advocated and enforced. The existence of these productions must be taken as an infallible proof that the majority of the people of Europe were suffering great political hardships and wrongs; and that the ordinary exercise of monarchical power was regulated by no principles of justice and equity.

The Reformation was a momentous political element; it gave a powerful and new impulse to the popular mind throughout the whole of Europe. The transition was quite easy and natural, from investi

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »