Page images

had a friend to care for his sanity. We suppose, that no one can have followed Cicero through the surviving monuments of his forensic eloquence, without an unutterable contempt for the tribunals of his day, as susceptible of no appeals whatever, except those made by the threats of the more powerful or the bribes of the richer party. How does the anticipated triumph swell in every sentence, when his client, though guilty and despicable to the last degree, is backed by the right men, or possesses a census appreciable by the venal judges ! and how manifestly does he droop and flag, from his very exordium, when truth and right are his only allies !

Did our limits permit, we should trace out with some minuteness of detail the political condition of the poor beyond the pale of Christendom at the present day, and exhibit them in Persia the abject slaves of royalty, in India despised outcasts whose touch contaminates, in Turkey never an arm's length from the bastinado or the bow-string, in China and its cognate kingdoms crouching on all fours before the humblest deputy or emblem of the imperial power, and possessing no more sway over their own destiny than over the orbit of Saturn.

In fine, the rights of man as such have nowhere begun to be recognized except under Christian culture. Nor should we expect the case to be otherwise. The ideas of man's common parentage and common destiny are essential to the conception of his

native and inherent rights. Men in society stand like the separate pillars in a colonnade, connected by the continuous entablature above and stylobate below. Bury the latter in the earth, and the former in the clouds, and you disjoin and isolate the pillars. Thus if, in the column of human life, the base and capital are both kept out of view, there remain no points of union or grounds of mutual obligation, but only conflicting interests, selfishness, indifference, jealousy, and alienation.

But in order to gain a distinct view of the condition of the poor, we must look into their homes.

And with regard to the states of classic renown, the most striking fact in the domestic condition of this class of people is the overwhelming majority of them that had no homes of their own. Slaves became so either by birth, debt, captivity, or conquest ; and what greatly augmented the severity of their lot was, that they were either the born fellow-countrymen of their masters,

or from nations of equal culture and refinement, or even superior, as in the case of the numerous Greek slaves in Rome, - of course, therefore, capable of feeling the restraints and the ignominy of bondage far more deeply than had they been from confessedly inferior races. The lapse of a freeman into the most abject servitude was very easy. By the Roman law of the twelve tables, a debtor, who remained insolvent after an imprisonment of sixty days, might either be sold into slavery, or killed and his body divided among his creditors ; and the latter, if the more merciful alternative, can seldom have been adopted in a nation not laboring under the suspicion of cannibalism. In Athens, there were at one time twenty-one thousand citizens, and forty thousand slaves. In the little island of Ægina, there were four hundred and seventy thousand slaves. The Helots of Sparta were kept within safe limits, as to their numbers, only by the sword. Their indiscriminate slaughter was permitted and encouraged. The young citizens were wont to murder them for exercise, and in order that they might enter the military service of the country already familiar with the use of weapons and the sight of human blood. Whenever these humane recreations were pursued with too little zeal, and the Helots multiplied too fast, they were “ lopped” down to the right numerical proportion by a legal massacre, under the supervision of the Ephori, on whom this duty devolved by the fundamental law of the state. Thucydides relates the murder of two thousand of these wretched beings at one time.

Under the Roman emperors, it was no uncommon thing for single citizens to own from ten to twenty thousand slaves. Nor were those held in bondage taken under legal protection in any form or way until the reign of Constantine. * To the severest treatment, even from a stranger, they could oppose no resistance, nor was any mode of redress for injury open to them. Their evidence in courts of justice was valid only when taken by torture. If a master was murdered, public opinion not only sanctioned, but prescribed, the slaughter of all his slaves, though numbered by thousands. Tacitus, in describing a case of this kind, in which only four hundred were sacrificed, coolly says that it was done de vetere more. In addition to all this, the murder of slaves was often prac

*“ Cum in servos omniu liceant,” &c. — Seneca de Clementia, I. 18.

tised as one phasis of the same ostentation of wealth which sought more harmless displays in expending thousands of sesterces on a mullet, or was perpetrated in a drunken frolic by the master and his friends. In this immense class there was a small percentage of confidential servants, scribes, men of letters, persons of rare skill as cooks or artisans, too valuable to be wantonly sacrificed or inhumanly treated except for some grave cause of provocation ; and their outward condition was often one of ease, luxury, and affluence. But for the vast majority of this class there were no domestic privileges or comforts, — they labored often in chains, - modesty and virtue had no defence or safeguard, — their homes had fewer immunities, comforts, and privileges, than the stables and kennels of their unreasoning fellow-servants.

The free poor, both of Athens and of Rome, were literally public paupers, - in the former city, nourished by a scanty daily stipend from the treasury, — in the latter, dependent mainly on the public granaries, and on largesses bestowed to purchase their shouts, or to enlist them as accomplices in rebellion, treason, or rapine.' They had no regular habits of industry, fixed means of support, or stable place of abode ; but were like a billowy ocean, tossed to and fro by every breeze of popular tumult

. They lived chiefly in the streets and in places of public concourse, and knew the ties of domestic life only to violate and to sunder them. And in Rome their condition must have been rendered inconceivably more corrupt and brutal by the gladiatorial shows and the conflicts of men with savage beasts, which they always sought so clamorously and thronged so greedily, and by which every lingering vestige of kindly domestic feeling must have been utterly effaced. We must add to this picture the well-known fact, that across the barrier between the rich and the poor only the arm of oppression and violence ever reached, that there was no institution or form of private charity, by which the superfluities of the one class were ever made to eke out the penury, help the infirmity, enlighten the ignorance, or relieve the degradation, of the other.

Infanticide occupies a conspicuous place in the domestic history of Greece and Rome. In Athens and in Sparta, the exposure of weak and sickly infants, or of those whose parents were unable to bring them up, was not only tolerated, VOL. LXVI. - No. 139.


but sanctioned, — nay, enjoined, by the wisest and most humane legislators. Yet more, both Plato and Aristotle speak of this custom with the highest commendation ; and Plutarch, with all his humanity, indorses in mass the laws of Lycurgus, which contain express provisions for the murder of feeble and deformed children, as entirely free from injustice and cruelty, and speaks of the legislator himself as a morally perfect man.

We find it generally said, though we know not on what authority, that this savage custom was transplanted from Greece into Rome ; but however this may be, it found a congenial soil in the harsh, emotionless utilitarianism of the Roman character, nor was this among the many practical Grecisms, of which the purists of the Augustan age complained so vehemently, as having impaired the primitive simplicity of the Romulean stock. That this practice of infanticide was indigenous in Rome is rendered probable by the reference to it involved in the early and uniform use of tollo in the sense of educate, * (the child whom the father did not see fit to lift from the ground being exposed,) and also by the fact, that in the Grecian states, the exposure of infants, frequent as it was, was an exception to the general rule, while in Rome it was the rule, to which the father in every individual case created an exception by his own act. We have given a prominent place to this custom, in treating of the condition of the poor, because, though practised to a scandalous extent in the upper classes, its imagined relief and benefit must have been, from the nature of the case, and

appear to have been, in point of historical fact, the most frequently made available, by those whose poverty and will gave joint consent to the deed.

But there is no need of going back to those early times for illustrations of the domestic wretchedness of the pagan poor. We might simply point our readers to Hindostan, where (under the ban of a superstition no doubt repudiated at heart by the intelligent and educated classes, though maintained in practice solely by their obstinate adherence to it) those who discharge the menial offices of society are forbidden access to all that can make life tolerable, excluded

* To this idiom we curiously enough owe the use of rear in the same sense in our own language, very probably that of raise (if, like very many other so-called Americanisms, it is a relic of the early English, grown obsolete on its native soil), and possibly that of bring up.

even from the public markets and wells, forced to dwell in miserable hovels remote from all other habitations, prohibited from touching the persons or entering the dwellings of any out of their own caste, and compelled to bequeathe this blighting curse of Cain to their remotest posterity. There, too, the children, especially of these Pariahs, are daily exposed in baskets to be devoured by birds of prey, or left in more sheltered places to die by starvation. Or we might refer to China, — the pattern empire of modern unbelievers, the mirror of civilization and refinement with the ungodly fanatics of the French Revolution, constantly cited by infidel philosophers of the Voltaire school to show how high a state may rise without the ministry of Christian institutions. There, besides the millions who live in mud hovels, low, windowless, filthy beyond description, and without division of apartments, there are other millions whose only homes are the crowded boats on the rivers and canals. There, too, infanticide is reduced to a science, there being no less than four canonical modes of performing the operation, where the father prefers killing the infant outright to exposing him. This custom is confined chiefly to the poorer classes, among whom, while the sons are spared to support their parents in old age, according to the best usage every other daughter, and not unfrequently five out of six, are destroyed. In the city of Pekin no less than nine thousand infants are annually exposed or murdered, and a proportionally large number in every part of the empire.

Such was and is the poor man under pagan systems and institutions. Let us now see how he is regarded and treated under the auspices of Christianity. And here we must be permitted to refer at the outset to the Jewish revelation, which is less a distinct system than the foreshadow and embryo of the Christian. One of the most striking characteristics of the Mosaic code is the rich vein of humanity which runs through it. The there find themselves traced back to the same parentage, loved by the same God, bound by the same religious ties, with their wealthy neighbours. At the sanctuary and the altar the only distinction is one in their favor, namely, that by which the least costly offering on their part is pronounced no less acceptable than the hecatomb which the rich may bring. In the rest of the Sabbath, the voice from Sinai made special mention of the man-servant and the maid-servant ; nor is there one among the many appointed festivals, in which


« PreviousContinue »