The first thing every one looks after, is to provide himself with Necessaries. This Point will engross our Thoughts till it be satisfied. If this is taken care of to our Hands, we look out for Pleasures and Amusements; and among a great Number of idle People, there will be many whose Pleasures will lie in Reading and Contemplation. These are the two great Sources of Knowledge, and as Men grow wise they naturally love to communicate their Discoveries; and others seeing the Happiness of such a Learned Life, and improving by their Conversation, emulate, imitate, and surpass one another, till a Nation is filled with Races of wise and understanding Persons. Ease and Plenty are therefore the great Cherishers of Knowledge: and as most of the Despotick Governments of the World have neither of them, they are naturally over-run with Ignorance and Barbarity. In Europe, indeed, notwithstanding several of its Princes are absolute, there are Men famous for Knowledge and Learning; but the Reason is because the Subjects are many of them rich and wealthy, the Prince not thinking fit to exert himself in his full Tyranny like the Princes of the Eastern Nations, lest his Subjects should be invited to new-mould their Constitution, having so many Prospects of Liberty within their View. But in all Despotic Governments, tho a particular Prince may favour Arts and Letters, there is a natural Degeneracy of Mankind, as you may observe from Augustus’s Reign, how the Romans lost themselves by Degrees till they fell to an Equality with the most barbarous Nations that surrounded them. Look upon Greece under its free States, and you would think its Inhabitants lived in different Climates, and under different Heavens, from those at present; so different are the Genius’s which are formed under Turkish Slavery and Grecian Liberty.
Besides Poverty and Want, there are other Reasons that debase the Minds of Men, who live under Slavery, though I look on this as the Principal. This natural Tendency of Despotic Power to Ignorance and Barbarity, tho not insisted upon by others, is, I think, an unanswerable Argument against that Form of Government, as it shews how repugnant it is to the Good of Mankind, and the Perfection of human Nature, which ought to be the great Ends of all Civil Institutions.
[Footnote 1: [Historian]]
[Footnote 2: [that]]
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No. 288. Wednesday, January 30, 1712. Steele
—Pavor est utrique molestus.