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SECTION I.: Of the Influences of Climate and Situation. - Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society 
An Essay on the History of Civil Society, 5th ed. (London: T. Cadell, 1782).
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Of the Influences of Climate and Situation.
WHAT we have hitherto observed on the condition and manners of nations, though chiefly derived from what has passed in the temperate climates, may, in some measure, be applied to the rude state of mankind in every part of the earth: But if we intend to pursue the history of our species in its further attainments, we may soon enter on subjects which will confine our observation to narrower limits. The genius of political wisdom, and of civil arts, appears to have chosen his seats in particular tracts of the earth, and to have selected his favourites in particular races of men.
Man, in his animal capacity, is qualified to subsist in every climate. He reigns with the lion and the tyger under the equatorial heats of the sun, or he associates with the bear and the rain-deer beyond the polar system. His versatile disposition fits him to assume the habits of either condition, or his talent for arts enables him to supply its defects. The intermediate climates, however, appear most to favour his nature; and in whatever manner we account for the fact, it cannot be doubted, that this animal has always attained to the principal honours of his species within the temperate zone. The arts, which he has on this scene repeatedly invented, the extent of his reason, the fertility of his fancy, and the force of his genius in literature, commerce, policy, and war, sufficiently declare either a distinguished advantage of situation, or a natural superiority of mind.
The most remarkable races of men, it is true, have been rude before they were polished. They have in some cases returned to rudeness again: And it is not from the actual possession of arts, science, or policy, that we are to pronounce of their genius.
There is a vigour, a reach of capacity, and a sensibility of mind, which may characterize as well the savage as the citizen, the slave as well as the master; and the same powers of the mind may be turned to a variety of purposes. A modern Greek, perhaps, is mischievous, slavish, and cunning, from the same animated temperament that made his ancestor ardent, ingenious, and bold, in the camp, or in the council of his nation. A modern Italian is distinguished by sensibility, quickness, and art, while he employs on trifles the capacity of an ancient Roman; and exhibits now, in the scene of amusement, and in the search of a frivolous applause, that fire, and those passions, with which Gracchus burned in the forum, and shook the assemblies of a severer people.
The commercial and lucrative arts have been, in some climates, the principal object of mankind, and have been retained through every disaster; in others, even under all the fluctuations of fortune, they have still been neglected; while in the temperate climates of Europe and Asia, they have had their ages of admiration as well as contempt.
In one state of society arts are slighted, from that very ardour of mind, and principle of activity, by which, in another, they are practised with the greatest success. While men are ingrossed by their passions, heated and roused by the struggles and dangers of their country; while the trumpet sounds, or the alarm of social engagement is rung, and the heart beats high, it were a mark of dulness, or of an abject spirit, to find leisure for the study of ease, or the pursuit of improvements, which have mere convenience or ease for their object.
The frequent vicissitudes and reverses of fortune, which nations have experienced on that very ground where the arts have prospered, are probably the effects of a busy, inventive, and versatile spirit, by which men have carried every national change to extremes. They have raised the fabric of despotic empire to its greatest height, where they had best understood the foundations of freedom. They perished in the flames which they themselves had kindled; and they only, perhaps, were capable of displaying, by turns, the greatest improvements, or the lowest corruptions, to which the human mind can be brought.
On this scene, mankind have twice, within the compass of history, ascended from rude beginnings to very high degrees of refinement. In every age, whether destined by its temporary disposition to build or to destroy, they have left the vestiges of an active and vehement spirit. The pavement and the ruins of Rome are buried in dust, shaken from the feet of barbarians, who trod with contempt on the refinements of luxury, and spurned those arts, the use of which it was reserved for the posterity of the same people to discover and to admire. The tents of the wild Arab are even now pitched among the ruins of magnificent cities; and the waste fields which border on Palestine and Syria, are perhaps become again the nursery of infant nations. The chieftain of an Arab tribe, like the founder of Rome, may have already fixed the roots of a plant that is to flourish in some future period, or laid the foundations of a fabric, that will attain to its grandeur in some distant age.
Great part of Africa has been always unknown; but the silence of fame, on the subject of its revolutions, is an argument, where no other proof can be found, of weakness in the genius of its people. The torrid zone, every where round the globe, however known to the geographer, has furnished few materials for history; and though in many places supplied with the arts of life in no contemptible degree, has no where matured the more important projects of political wisdom, nor inspired the virtues which are connected with freedom, and which are required in the conduct of civil affairs.
It was indeed in the torrid zone that mere arts of mechanism and manufacture were found, among the inhabitants of the new world, to have made the greatest advance: It is in India, and in the regions of this hemisphere, which are visited by the vertical sun, that the arts of manufacture, and the practice of commerce, are of the greatest antiquity, and have survived, with the smallest diminution, the ruins of time, and the revolutions of empire.
The sun, it seems, which ripens the pine-apple and the tamarind, inspires a degree of mildness that can even assuage the rigours of despotical government: and such is the effect of a gentle and pacific disposition in the natives of the East, that no conquest, no irruption of barbarians, terminates, as they did among the stubborn natives of Europe, by a total destruction of what the love of ease and of pleasure had produced.
Transferred, without any great struggle, from one master to another, the natives of India are ready, upon every change, to pursue their industry, to acquiesce in the enjoyment of life, and the hopes of animal pleasure: the wars of conquest are not prolonged to exasperate the parties engaged in them, or to desolate the land for which those parties contend: even the barbarous invader leaves untouched the commercial settlement which has not provoked his rage: though master of opulent cities, he only incamps, in their neighbourhood, and leaves to his heirs the option of entering, by degrees, on the pleasures, the vices, and the pageantries which his acquisitions afford: his successors, still more than himself, are disposed to foster the hive, in proportion as they taste more of its sweets; and they spare the inhabitant, together with his dwelling, as they spare the herd or the stall, of which they are become the proprietors.
The modern description of India is a repetition of the ancient, and the present state of China is derived from a distant antiquity, to which there is no parallel in the history of mankind. The succession of monarchs has been changed; but no revolutions have affected the state. The African and the Samoide are not more uniform in their ignorance and barbarity, than the Chinese and the Indian, if we may credit their own story, have been in the practice of manufacture, and in the observance of a certain police, which was calculated only to regulate their traffic, and to protect them in their application to servile or lucrative arts.
If we pass from these general representations of what mankind have done, to the more minute description of the animal himself, as he has occupied different climates, and is diversified in his temper, complexion, and character, we shall find a variety of genius corresponding to the effects of his conduct, and the result of his story.
Man, in the perfection of his natural faculties, is quick and delicate in his sensibility; extensive and various in his imaginations and reflections; attentive, penetrating, and subtile, in what relates to his fellow-creatures; firm and ardent in his purposes; devoted to friendship or to enmity; jealous of his independence and his honour, which he will not relinquish for safety or for profit: under all his corruptions or improvements, he retains his natural sensibility, if not his force; and his commerce is a blessing or a curse, according to the direction his mind has received.
But under the extremes of heat or of cold, the active range of the human soul appears to be limited; and men are of inferior importance, either as friends, or as enemies. In the one extreme, they are dull and slow, moderate in their desires, regular and pacific in their manner of life; in the other, they are feverish in their passions, weak in their judgments, and addicted by temperament to animal pleasure. In both the heart is mercenary, and makes important concessions for childish bribes: in both the spirit is prepared for sevitude: In the one it is subdued by fear of the future; in the other it is not roused even by its sense of the present.
The nations of Europe who would settle or conquer on the south or the north of their own happier climates, find little resistance: they extend their dominion at pleasure, and find no where a limit but in the ocean, and in the satiety of conquest. With few of the pangs and the struggles that precede the reduction of nations, mighty provinces have been successively annexed to the territory of Russia; and its sovereign, who accounts within his domain, entire tribes, with whom perhaps none of his emissaries have ever conversed, dispatched a few geometers to extend his empire, and thus to execute a project, in which the Romans were obliged to employ their consuls and their legions* . These modern conquerors complain of rebellion, where they meet with repugnance; and are surprised at being treated as enemies, where they come to impose their tribute.
It appears, however, that on the shores of the Eastern sea, they have met with nations† who have questioned their title to reign, and who have considered the requisition of a tax as the demand of effects for nothing. Here perhaps may be found the genius of ancient Europe, and under its name of ferocity, the spirit of national independence‡ ; that spirit which disputed its ground in the West with the victorious armies of Rome, and baffled the attempts of the Persian monarchs to comprehend the villages of Greece within the bounds of their extensive dominion.
The great and striking diversities which obtain betwixt the inhabitants of climates far removed from each other, are, like the varieties of other animals in different regions, easily observed. The horse and the rain-deer are just emblems of the Arab and the Laplander: the native of Arabia, like the animal for whose race his country is famed, whether wild in the woods, or tutored by art, is lively, active, and servent in the exercise on which he is bent. This race of men, in their rude state, fly to the desert for freedom, and in roving bands alarm the frontiers of empire, and strike a terror in the province to which their moving encampments advance* . When roused by the prospect of conquest, or disposed to act on a plan, they spread their dominion, and their system of imagination, over mighty tracts of the earth: when possessed of property and of settlement, they set the example of a lively invention, and superior ingenuity, in the practice of arts, and the study of science. The Laplander, on the contrary, like the associate of his climate, is hardy, indefatigable, and patient of famine; dull rather than tame; serviceable in a particular tract; and incapable of change. Whole nations continue from age to age in the same condition, and, with immoveable phlegm, submit to the appellations of Dane, of Swede, or of Muscovite, according to the land they inhabit; and suffer their country to be severed like a common, by the line on which those nations have traced their limits of empire.
It is not in the extremes alone that these varieties of genius may be clearly distinguished. Their continual change keeps pace with the variations of climate with which we suppose them connected: and though certain degrees of capacity, penetration and ardour, are not the lot of entire nations, nor the vulgar properties of any people; yet their unequal frequency, and unequal measure, in different countries, are sufficiently manifest from the manners, the tone of conversation, the talent for business, amusement, and the literary composition, which predominate in each.
It is to the Southern nations of Europe, both ancient and modern, that we owe the invention and embellishment of that mythology, and those early traditions, which continue to furnish the materials of fancy, and the field of poetic allusion. To them we owe the romantic tales of chivalry, as well as the subsequent models of a more rational style, by which the heart and the imagination are kindled, and the understanding informed.
The fruits of industry have abounded most in the North, and the study of science has here received its most solid improvements: The efforts of imagination and sentiment were most frequent and most successful in the South. While the shores of the Baltic became famed for the studies of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler, those of the Mediterranean were celebrated for giving birth to men of genius in all its variety, and for having abounded with poets and historians, as well as with men of science.
On one side, learning took its rise from the heart and the fancy; on the other, it is still confined to the judgment and the memory. A faithful detail of public transactions, with little discernment of their comparative importance; the treaties and the claims of nations, the births and genealogies of princes, are, in the literature of Northern nations, amply preserved; while the lights of the understanding, and the feelings of the heart, are suffered to perish. The history of the human character; the interesting memoir, founded no less on the careless proceedings of a private life, than on the formal transactions of a public station; the ingenious pleasantry, the piercing ridicule, the tender, pathetic, or the elevated strain of elocution, have been confined in modern, as well as ancient times, with a few exceptions, to the same latitudes with the fig and the vine.
These diversities of natural genius, if real, must have great part of their foundation in the animal frame: And it has been often observed, that the vine flourishes, where, to quicken the ferments of the human blood, its aids are the least required. While spirituous liquors are, among southern nations, from a sense of their ruinous effects, prohibited; or from a love of decency, and the possession of a temperament sufficiently warm, not greatly desired; they carry in the North a peculiar charm, while they awaken the mind, and give a taste of that lively fancy and ardour of passion, which the climate is found to deny.
The melting desires, or the fiery passions, which in one climate take place between the sexes, are in another changed into a sober consideration, or a patience of mutual disgust. This change is remarked in crossing the Mediterranean, in following the course of the Mississippi, in ascending the mountains of Caucasus, and in passing from the Alps and the Pyrenees to the shores of the Baltic.
The female sex domineers on the frontier of Louisiana, by the double engine of superstition, and of passion. They are slaves among the native inhabitants of Canada, and are chiefly valued for the toils they endure, and the domestic service they yield* .
The burning ardours, and the torturing jealousies of the seraglio and the haram, which have reigned so long in Asia and Africa, and which, in the southern parts of Europe, have scarcely given way to the difference of religion and civil establishments, are found, however, with an abatement of heat in the climate, to be more easily changed, in one latitude, into a temporary passion which ingrosses the mind, without enfeebling it, and excites to romantic atchievements: By a farther progress to the north, it is changed into a spirit of gallantry, which employs the wit and the fancy more than the heart; which prefers intrigue to enjoyment; and substitutes affectation and vanity, where sentiment and desire have failed. As it departs from the sun, the same passion is farther composed into a habit of domestic connection, or frozen into a state of insensibility, under which the sexes at freedom scarcely chuse to unite their society.
These variations of temperament and character do not indeed correspond with the number of degrees that are measured from the equator to the pole; nor does the temperature of the air itself depend on the latitude. Varieties of soil and position, the distance or neighbourhood of the sea, are known to affect the atmosphere, and may have signal effects in composing the animal frame.
The climates of America, though taken under the same parallel, are observed to differ from those of Europe. There, extensive marshes, great lakes, aged, decayed, and crouded forests, with the other circumstances that mark an uncultivated country, are supposed to replenish the air with heavy and noxious vapours, that give a double asperity to the winter; and during many months, by the frequency and continuance of fogs, snow, and frost, carry the inconveniencies of the frigid zone far into the temperate. The Samoiede and the Laplander, however, have their counterpart, though on a lower latitude, on the shores of America: The Canadian and the Iroquois bear a resemblance to the ancient inhabitants of the middling climates of Europe: The Mexican, like the Asiatic of India, being addicted to pleasure, was sunk in effeminacy; and in the neighbourhood of the wild and the free, had suffered to be raised on his weakness a domineering superstition, and a permanent fabric of despotical government.
Great part of Tartary lies under the same parallels with Greece, Italy, and Spain; but the climates are found to be different; and while the shores, not only of the Mediterranean, but even those of the Atlantic, are favoured with a moderate change and vicissitude of seasons, the eastern parts of Europe, and the northern continent of Asia, are afflicted with all their extremes. In one season, we are told, that the plagues of an ardent summer reach almost to the frozen sea; and that the inhabitant is obliged to screen himself from noxious vermin in the same clouds of smoke in which he must, at a different time of the year, take shelter from the rigours of cold. When winter returns, the transition is rapid, and with an asperity, almost equal in every latitude, lays waste the face of the earth, from the northern confines of Siberia, to the descents of Mount Caucasus and the frontier of India.
With this unequal distribution of climate, by which the lot, as well as the national character, of the northern Asiatic may be deemed inferior to that of Europeans, who lie under the same parallels, a similar gradation of temperament and spirit, however, has been observed, in following the meridian on either tract; and the Southern Tartar has over the Tonguses and the Samoiede the same preeminence, that certain nations of Europe are known to possess over their northern neighbours, situations more advantageous to both.
The southern hemisphere scarcely offers a subject of like observation. The temperate zone is there still undiscovered, or is only known in two promontories, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, which stretch into moderate latitudes on that side of the line. But the savage of South America, notwithstanding the interposition of the nations of Peru and of Mexico, is found to resemble his counterpart on the North; and the Hottentot, in many things, the barbarian of Europe: He is tenacious of freedom, has rudiments of policy, and a national vigour, which serve to distinguish his race from the other African tribes, who are exposed to the more vertical rays of the sun.
While we have, in these observations, only thrown out what must present itself on the most cursory view of the history of mankind, or what may be presumed from the mere obscurity of some nations, who inhabit great tracts of the earth, as well as from the lustre of others, we are still unable to explain the manner in which climate may affect the temperament, or foster the genius of its inhabitant.
That the temper of the heart, and the intellectual operations of the mind, are, in some measure, dependent on the state of the animal organs, is well known from experience. Men differ from themselves in sickness and in health; under a change of diet, of air, and of exercise: but we are, even in these familiar instances, at a loss how to connect the cause with its supposed effect: and though climate, by including a variety of such causes, may, by some regular influence, affect the characters of men, we can never hope to explain the manner of those influences till we have understood, what probably we shall never understand, the structure of those finer organs with which operations of the soul are connected.
When we point out, in the situation of a people, circumstances which, by determining their pursuits, regulate their habits, and their manner of life; and when, instead of referring to the supposed physical source of their dispositions, we assign their inducements to a determinate conduct; in this we speak of effects and of causes whose connection is more familiarly known. We can understand, for instance, why a race of men like the Samoiede, confined, during great part of the year, to darkness, or retired into caverns, should differ in their manners and apprehensions from those who are at liberty in every season; or who, instead of seeking relief from the extremities of cold, are employed in search of precautions against the oppressions of a burning sun. Fire and exercise are the remedies of cold; repose and shade the securities from heat. The Hollander is laborious and industrious in Europe; he becomes more languid and slothful in India* .
Great extremities, either of heat or cold, are, perhaps, in a moral view, equally unfavourable to the active genius of mankind, and by presenting alike insuperable difficulties to be overcome, or strong inducements to indolence and sloth, equally prevent the first applications of ingenuity, or limit their progress. Some intermediate degrees of inconvenience in the situation, at once excite the spirit, and, with the hopes of success, encourage its efforts. “It is in the least favourable situations,” says Mr. Rousseau, “that the arts have flourished the most. I could show them in Egypt, as they spread with the overflowing of the Nile; and in Attica, as they mounted up to the clouds, from a rocky soil and from barren sands; while, on the fertile banks of the Eurotas, they were not able to fasten their roots.”
Where mankind from the first subsist by toil, and in the midst of difficulties, the defects of their situation are supplied by industry: and while dry, tempting, and healthful lands are lest uncultivated† , the pestilent marsh is drained with great labour, and the sea is fenced off with mighty barriers, the materials and the costs of which, the soil to be gained can scarely afford, or repay. Harbours are opened, and crouded with shipping, where vessels of burden, if they are not constructed with a view to the situation, have not water to float. Elegant and magnificent edifices are raised on foundations of slime; and all the conveniencies of human life are made to abound, where nature does not seem to have prepared a reception for men. It is in vain to expect, that the residence of arts and commerce should be determined by the possession of natural advantages. Men do more when they have certain difficulties to surmount, than when they have supposed blessings to enjoy: and the shade of the barren oak and the pine are more favourable to the genius of mankind, than that of the palm or the tamarind.
Among the advantages which enable nations to run the career of policy, as well as of arts, it may be expected, from the observations already made, that we should reckon every circumstance which enable them to divide and to maintain themselves in distinct and independent communities. The society and concourse of other men are not more necessary to form the individual, than the rivalship and competition of nations are to invigorate the principles of political life in a state. Their wars, and their treaties, their mutual jealousies, and the establishments which they devise with a view to each other, constitute more than half the occupations of mankind, and furnish materials for their greatest and most improving exertions. For this reason, clusters of islands, a continent divided by many natural barriers, great rivers, ridges of mountains, and arms of the sea, are best fitted for becoming the nursery of independent and respectable nations. The distinction of states being clearly maintained, a principle of political life is established in every division, and the capital of every district, like the heart of an animal body, communicates with ease the vital blood and the national spirit of its members.
The most respectable nations have always been found, where at least one part of the frontier has been washed by the sea. This barrier, perhaps the strongest of all in the times of ignorance, does not, however, even then supercede the cares of a national defence; and in the advanced state of arts, gives the greatest scope and facility to commerce.
Thriving and independent nations were accordingly scattered on the shores of the Pacific and the Atlantic. They surrounded the Red sea, the Mediterranean, and the Baltic; while, a few tribes excepted, who retire among the mountains bordering on India and Persia, or who have found some rude establishment among the creeks and the shores of the Caspian and the Euxine, there is scarcely a people in the vast continent of Asia who deserves the name of a nation. The unbounded plain is traversed at large by hordes, who are in perpetual motion, or who are displaced and harassed by their mutual hostilities. Although they are never perhaps actually blended together in the course of hunting, or in the search of pasture, they cannot bear one great distinction of nations, which is taken from the territory, and which is deeply impressed by an affection to the native seat. They move in troops, without the arrangement or the concert of nations; they become easy accessions to every new empire among themselves, or to the Chinese and the Muscovite, with whom they hold a traffic for the means of subsistence, and the materials of pleasure.
Where a happy system of nations is formed, they do not rely for the continuance of their separate names, and for that of their political independence, on the barriers erected by nature. Mutual jealousies lead to the maintenance of a balance of power; and this principle, more than the Rhine and the Ocean, than the Alps and the Pyrenees in modern Europe; more than the straits of Thermopylæ, the mountains of Thrace, or the bays of Salamine and Corinth in ancient Greece, tended to prolong the separation, to which the inhabitants of these happy climates have owed their felicity as nations, the lustre of their fame, and their civil accomplishments.
If we mean to pursue the history of civil society, our attention must be chiefly directed to such examples, and we must here bid farewell to those regions of the earth, on which our species, by the effects of situation or climate, appear to be restrained in their national pursuits, or inferior in the powers of the mind.
[* ]See Russian Atlas.
[† ]The Tchutzi.
[‡ ]Notes to the Genealogical History of the Tartars, vouched by Strahlenberg.
[* ]The Dutch sailors, who were employed in the siege of Malaco, tore or burnt the sail-cloth which was given them to make tents, that they might not have the trouble of making or pitching them. Voy. de Matelief.
[† ]Compare the state of Hungary with that of Holland.