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sense, a great aversion to extremes, and much historical research, the fruits of which were skilfully applied to illustrate and confirm his doctrines, were displayed in the only portions of this extensive work which ever saw the light; that is, in some political essays which were published in 1836, as the first volume of his Studies in the Social Sciences. His original design was very comprehensive. “In the first two books were contained the exposition of my principles of liberty and government, in the third the analysis of the British constitution, in the fourth that of the French republic, in the fifth the ancient constitutions of Spain, in the sixth those of the Italian republics ; the four following, on Sweden, Poland, the Hanseatic towns, and the United States of America, were scarcely sketched out.” We may well suppose that a person engaged in such speculations became an object of suspicion to the despotic government of Austria, then wrestling with the athletic young democracy of France for the preservation of her power in Italy. But her fears were unfounded ; so temperate an exhibition of political doctrine, not gilded by rhetorical ornament or fervid declamation, nor seasoned by appeals to popular prejudices, need not have alarıned either the legitimatists or the radicals. Sismondi would have been too soon, by at least a quarter of a century, in setting forth his calm and philosophical view of the matter; it was well that the publication even of a part was deferred till the storm had subsided.
The labor bestowed on this unpublished work, in one respect at least, was not without results ; it gave a new direction to his studies, and finally led him to undertake one of the two great histories with which his name is inseparably connected. In 1798, he writes, “ My inquiries into the constitutions of the Italian republics obliged me to study their history, and from this period are dated my endeavours to become master of it, and my resolution to write it.” But his appearance before the public as the historian of the Italian republics was still long delayed from the difficulty of finding a publisher, and from the extent and intricacy of the inquiries which formed the necessary preliminaries to so great an undertaking. Meanwhile, his pen was not idle, and his thoughts recurred to those great problems in the social condition of man which were ever the leading objects of his attention. His taste and feelings ever inclined more to political and econom
ical speculations than to narrative and historical research ; if he did not always excel in them, perhaps the only reason was that he felt too strongly ; the warmth of his heart sometimes blinded his judgment.
About the year 1800, Sismondi returned to Geneva, where he was appointed secretary to the Chamber of Commerce. For this restoration to his native place he was indebted to the discernment and clemency of the First Consul, who quickly saw that there was nothing to be feared from one of his temperament. When he became very intimate with Madame de Staël, however, there is reason to believe that Bonaparte watched his conduct with some suspicion. At Geneva, after the essay on the Agriculture of Tuscany, the appearance of which has been already mentioned, Sismondi published, in 1803, his work on Commercial Wealth, in three volumes octavo. Upon this treatise he set little value afterwards ; at the time of its publication he was a zealous disciple of Adam Smith, and wished to apply the whole theory of political economy to France, of which the canton of Geneva was now a department. He advocated entire freedom of trade, and the destruction of monopolies, of the protective system, and of all restraints upon industry. Afterwards, when he began to suspect that the mere production of wealth did not always tend in an equal ratio to promote the well-being of a community, he recalled many of the opinions he had hurriedly expressed in this work, and in fact substituted doctrines for them which went to place the whole science of political economy on a new footing.
When this work came from the press, however, it was favorably received, and added considerably to the reputation of its author. The professorship of political economy was then vacant in the university of Wilna, and it was offered to him with a handsome salary. The narrowness of his present means inclined him to look favorably on this proposition, and it is probable he would have accepted it, if he had not been checked by a regard for the wishes and health of his mother, who was still at Val Chiusa. She, indeed, besought him to listen only to his own interests, reminding him “ that foreigners, scholars, and men of letters are better received in the North than in other parts of Europe, that they find more roads to fortune open to them, and that they often make rich marriages.” But the alarm and depression of spirits of the poor
mother, frightened at the prospect of a long separation from her son, were easily seen through this mask of composure ; and Sismondi, rightfully considering his duty to her as first in importance, declined the professorship.
Obliged to seek occupation of some kind as a means of support, Sismondi now thought of entering upon public life, and of finding employment under the administration of the First Consul, for which he was well fitted by early training in the habits of business, and by facility in the use of his pen.
“ But the prudence of Madame de Sismondi turned him from this design. She knew her son better than he knew himself. His bold convictions, which he would never have been able to bend to the varying exigencies of politics ; his generous sentiments, which it would have been as difficult for him to sacrifice as to satisfy ; an absolute love of right, which would not easily admit of temporizing or delay ; that deep pride, which causes embarrassment in the presence of others when it does not give the power to govern them ; the enthusiasm of a thinker, the awkwardness of a recluse, the candor of an upright man, little flexibility, no address, but a strong intellect, high talent, constant meditation on right and useful things, rendered M. de Sismondi less suited for public affairs than intellectual labor. His mother persuaded him to become an historian. He followed this advice, which was also in accordance with his own taste, and also because he had not found it possible to publish his manuscript on the Constitutions of free nations, of which he had brought the first part to Pescia. Theories did not meet with the same favorable reception which they had formerly done. Their time seemed to be gone by,— that of history was come.
The great defect of the subject which he had chosen, the history of the Italian republics, was its want of unity ; Sismondi was aware of this, and exerted all his art, by tracing out the common features of their origin, progress, and fall, to weave together their intricate annals, and the effects produced on each by local peculiarities and the characters of their distinguished citizens, into one consistent and uniform whole. Of course, the thread of his inquiries was the progress and decline of liberty in these active and turbulent civic communities, and its general effect on the social condition of the Italians. Portions of the subject were splendid, and required but little skill on the part of the historian
to make the exhibition of them produce a strong effect on the mind of the reader. But there were many obscure dissensions and unimportant wars, many intricacies of local politics, which occupied much room on the canvas without contributing to the magnificence or impressiveness of the picture as a whole. These needed to be but lightly sketched and thrown into the background, so that the attention of the observer should not be diverted from the grand features of the story. Sismondi's patient and long-continued study of the subject exalted every portion of it in his estination, and led him to spend too much labor upon its unimportant details.
It might have been expected, then, that the portion of his task which he was obliged to pass over with the widest generalizations, crowding the events together, and bringing out into full relief only the principal characters and most striking features of the age, would be the most successfully executed. This was the case with the first six chapters, in which he gives a rapid sketch of the history of Italy, from the reign of Odoacer, its first barbarian monarch, in the latter part of the fifth century, up to the peace of Worms between the Church and the Empire, which was made six hundred years afterwards. This period was only the introduction to the history of the Italian republics, the proper task of Sismondi, which begins late in the tenth century, and extends to the early part of the sixteenth, when Charles V. was crowned at Bologna. The earlier period, to which the preliminary chapters relate, is an obscure one, especially towards its close ; profound darkness seems to rest over the whole peninsula, broken only by faint gleams of light from the expiring Roman civilization, and by an uncertain dawn that preceded the revival of letters by the moderns. At its commencement, says Sismondi, “the nation had reached the last stage of degradation to which despotism can reduce a civilized people ; at its close, it had recovered all the energy, all the independence of character, which the struggle with adversity can give to a barbarous nation.” His object was to give a brief view of this transition, to show how the infusion of fresh and vigorous blood from the North had resuscitated and strengthened the lifeless remains of Italian greatness, after the Roman empire in the West had rather died out than suffered conquest.
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“ His introduction had satisfied both Madame de Staël, who heard it read with lively interest, and Madame de Sismondi, who mixed with her praises the counsels of the most delicate taste. • Take care,' she wrote to her son, to avoid every thing which approaches at ever so great a distance the manner of the philosophical haranguers of 1789, who thunder as soon as they open their mouths ; warmth must come from development. It is agreeable to perceive the fire under the ashes before the ex. plosion, and the reader more willingly shares the opinions of the author when they come to him by degrees.
The beginning of his history Sismondi wrote and rewrote with great ardor and rapidity ; his enthusiasm was kindled by the novelty of his task, and by the inspiring views which he gained of the destinies of the race from this turning-point in the annals of mankind. But as he went deeper and deeper into the obscure chronicles of these dark ages, as he traced with difficulty the course of petty wars and confused politics, his ardor cooled, his task seemed feebly done, and he began to despond. " His father and grandmother had listened coldly to the first chapters of his history, and Madame de Staël, so delighted with the introduction, treated what followed as dry and wanting life.” He repeated his attempts with unwearied perseverance, going over the ground again and again, but remaining still uncertain as to the success of his efforts ; a young and sensitive author, if really possessing taste and talent, usually finds it more difficult to satisfy himself than to please the public. His mother, from whom not one of his feelings or thoughts was hidden, tried to divert and sustain him, mingling excellent advice with her encouragements. " These exhortations were seconded by less sedentary habits, by excursions to Coppet, where Sismondi often staid several days, by journeys to the glaciers, and lastly, by the lively and animating conversation of Madame de Staël, and of the chosen society that she attracted around her.”
He commenced writing his history in 1803, but the first two volumes were not published till 1807, when they appeared both in French and German, from the press of Gessner at Zürich. They do not seem to have had brilliant success, but worked their way gradually to quite a high place in the public favor, so that the author was encouraged to persevere. The third and fourth followed in the course of the next year ;