Item of the Day: An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times (1758)

Full Title: An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times. By John Brown. Seventh Edition. London, Printed;  Boston, New-England: Re-printed and sold by Green and Russell, at their Printing-Office in Queen-Street, MDCCLVIII.

PART I.

A Delineation of the Ruling Manners and Principles.

 SECT. I.

THE DESIGN.

SUPERFICIAL, though zealous, Observers, think they see the Source of all our public Miscarriages in the particular and accidental Misconduct of Individuals. This is not much to be wondered at, because it is so easy a Solution.

THIS pretence, too, is plausibly urged upon the People by profligate Scribblers, who find their Account in it. It is a sort of Compliment paid the Public, to persuade them, that they have no Share in the Production of these national Misfortunes.

BUT a candid and mature Consideration will convince us, that the Malady lies deeper than what is commonly suspected: and, on impartial Enquiry, it will probably be found springing, not from varying and incidental, but from permanent and established Causes.

 It is the Observation of the greatest of political Writers, that “it is by no means Fortune that rules the World; for this we may appeal to the Romans, who had a long Series of Prosperities, when they acted upon a certain Plan; and an uninterrupted Course of Misfortunes, when they conducted themselves upon another. There are general Causes, natural or moral, which operate in every State; which raise, support, or overturn it.” *

Among all these various Causes, none perhaps so much contributes to raise or sink a Nation, as the Manners and Principles of its People. But as there never was any declining Nation, which had not Causes of Declension peculiar to itself, so it will require a minute Investigation in the leading Manners and Principles of the present Time, to throw a just Light on the peculiar causes of our calamitous Situation.

To delineate these Manners and Principles without Aggravation or Weakness, to unravel their Effects on the publick State and Welfare, and to trace them to their real though distant Sources, is indeed a Task of equal Difficulty and Importance.

IT may be necessary therefore to apologize even for the Attempt; as being supposed to lie beyond the Sphere of him who makes it. To this it can only be replied, that a common Eye may possibly discover a lurking Rock or Sand, while the able and experienced Mariners overlook the Danger, through their Attention to the Helm, the Sails or the Rigging.

He will be much mistaken, who expects to find here a Vein of undistinguishing and licentious Satire. To rail at the Times at large, can serve no good Purpose: and generally ariseth from a Want of Knowledge or a Want of Honesty. There never was an Age or a Nation that had not Virtues and Vices peculiar to itself: And in some Respects, perhaps, there is no Time nor Country delivered down to us in Story, in which a wise Man would so much wish to have lived, as in our own.

NOTWITHSTANDING this, our Situation seems most dangerous: We are rolling to the Brink of a Precipe that must destroy us.

AT such a Juncture, to hold up a true Mirror to the Public, and let the Nation see themselves as the Authors of their own Misfortunes, cannot be a very popular Design. But as the Writer is not sollicitous about private Consequence, he can with the greater Security adopt the Words of an honest and Sensible Man.

“MOST commonly, such as palliate Evils, and represent the State of Things in a sounder Condition than truly they are, do thereby consult best for themselves, and better recommend their own Business and Pretensions in the World: But he who, to the utmost of his Skill and Power, speaks the Truth, where the Good of his King and Country are concerned, will be most esteemed by Persons of Virtue and Wisdom: And to the Favour and Protection of such, these Papers are committed.” **

 

* “Ce n’est pas la Fortune qui domine le Monde: on peut le demander aux Romains, qui eurent une suite continuelle des Prosperites quand ils se gouvernerent sur un certain Plan, & une suitenon interrompue de revers lors qu’ils se conduisirent sur un autre. Il y a des Causes generales, soit morales, soit physiques, qui agissent dans chaque Monarchie, l’elevent, la maintiennent, ou la precipitent” — Grandeur, &c. des Romains, c. 18.

 ** Dr. Davenant, on Trade.

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Filed under 1750's, Culture, Enlightenment, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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