Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION I: Useful Arts. - Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
SECTION I: Useful Arts. - Henry Home, Lord Kames, Sketches of the History of Man, vol. 1 
Sketches of the History of Man Considerably enlarged by the last additions and corrections of the author, edited and with an Introduction by James A. Harris (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007). 3 Vols. Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Some useful arts must be nearly coeval with the human race; for food, cloathing, and habitation, even in their original simplicity, require some art. Many other arts are of such antiquity as to place the inventors beyond the reach of tradition. Several have gradually crept into existence, without an inventor. The busy mind however, accustomed to a beginning in things, cannot rest till it find or imagine a beginning to every art. Bacchus is said to have invented wine; and Staphylus the mixing water with wine. The bow and arrow are ascribed by tradition to Scythos, son of Jupiter, though a weapon all the world over. Spinning is so useful, that it must be honoured with some illustrious inventor: it was ascribed by the Egyptians to their goddess Isis; by the Greeks to Minerva; by the Peruvians to Mamma Ella, wife to their first sovereign Mango Capac; and by the Chinese to the wife of their Emperor Yao. Mark here by the way a connection of ideas: spinning is a female occupation, and it must have had a female inventor.*
In the hunter-state, men are wholly employed upon the procuring food, clothing, habitation, and other necessaries; and have no time nor zeal for studying conveniencies. The ease of the shepherd-state affords both time and inclination for useful arts; which are greatly promoted by numbers who are relieved by agriculture from bodily labour: the soil, by gradual improvements in husbandry, affords plenty with less labour than at first; and the surplus hands are employed, first, in useful arts, and, next, in those of amusement. Arts accordingly make the quickest progress in a fertile soil, which produces plenty with little labour. Arts flourished early in Egypt and Chaldea, countries extremely fertile.
When men, who originally lived in caves like some wild animals, began to think of a more commodious habitation, their first houses were extremely simple; witness those of the Canadian savages, than which none can be more simple, even at present. Their houses, says Charlevoix, are built with less art, neatness, and solidity, than those of the beavers; having neither chimneys nor windows: a hole only is left in the roof, for admitting light and emitting smoke. That hole must be stopped when it rains or snows; and, of course, the fire is put out, that the inhabitants may not be stifled with smoke. To have passed so many ages in that manner without thinking of any improvement, shows how greatly men are influenced by custom. The blacks of Jamaica are still more rude in their buildings: their huts are erected without even a hole in the roof; and, accordingly, at home they breathe nothing but smoke.
Revenge produced early hostile weapons. The club and the dart are obvious inventions: not so the bow and arrow; and for that reason it is not easy to say how that weapon came to be universal. As iron differs from other metals, being seldom found pure, it was a late discovery: at the siege of Troy, spears, darts, and arrows, were headed with brass. Menestheus, who succeeded Theseus in the kingdom of Athens, and led fifty ships to the siege of Troy, was reputed the first who marshalled an army in battle-array. Instruments of defence are made necessary by those of offence. Trunks of trees, interlaced with branches, and supported with earth, made the first fortifications; to which succeeded a wall finished with a parapet for shooting arrows at besiegers. As a parapet covers but half of the body, holes were left in the wall from space to space, no larger than to give passage to an arrow. Besiegers had no remedy but to beat down the wall: a battering ram was first used by Pericles the Athenian, and perfected by the Carthaginians at the siege of Gades. To oppose that formidable machine, the wall was built with advanced parapets for throwing stones and fire upon the enemy, which kept him at a distance. A wooden booth upon wheels, and pushed close to the wall, secured the men who wrought the battering ram. This invention was rendered ineffectual, by surrounding the wall with a deep and broad ditch. Besiegers were reduced to the necessity of inventing engines for throwing stones and javelins upon those who occupied the advanced parapets, in order to give opportunity for filling up the ditch; and ancient histories expatiate upon the powerful operation of the catapulta and balista. These engines suggested a new invention for defence: instead of a circular wall, it was built with salient angles, like the teeth of a saw, in order that one part might flank another. That form of a wall was afterwards improved, by raising round towers upon the salient angles; and the towers were improved by making them square. The ancients had no occasion for any form more complete, being sufficient for defending against all the missile weapons at that time known. The invention of cannon required a variation in military architecture. The first cannons were made of iron bars, forming a concave cylinder, united by rings of copper. The first cannon-balls were of stone, which required a very large aperture. A cannon was reduced to a smaller size, by using iron for balls instead of stone; and that destructive engine was perfected by making it of cast metal. To resist its force, bastions were invented, horn-works, crown-works, half-moons, &c. &c.; and military architecture became a system, governed by principles and general rules. But all in vain: it has indeed produced fortifications that have made sieges horridly bloody; but artillery, at the same time, has been carried to such perfection, and the art of attack so improved, that no fortification, it is thought, can be rendered impregnable. The only impregnable defence, is good neighbourhood among weak princes, ready to unite whenever one of them is attacked by a superior force. And nothing tends more effectually to promote such union, than constant experience that fortifications cannot be relied on.
With respect to naval architecture, the first vessels were beams joined together, and covered with planks, pushed along with poles in shallow water, and in deep water drawn by animals on the shore. To these succeeded trunks of trees cut hollow, termed by the Greeks monoxyles. The next were planks joined together in form of a monoxyle. The thought of imitating a fish advanced naval architecture. A prow was constructed in imitation of the head, a stern with a moveable helm in imitation of the tail, and oars in imitation of the fins. Sails were at last added; which invention was so early that the contriver is unknown. Before the year 1545, ships of war in England had no port-holes for guns, as at present: they had only a few cannon placed on the upper deck.
When Homer composed his poems, at least during the Trojan war, the Greeks had not acquired the art of gelding cattle: they eat the flesh of bulls and of rams. Kings and princes killed and cooked their victuals: spoons, forks, table-cloths, napkins, were unknown. They fed sitting, the custom of reclining upon beds being afterward copied from Asia; and, like other savages, they were great eaters. At the time mentioned, they had no chimneys, nor candles, nor lamps. Torches are frequently mentioned by Homer, but lamps never: a vase was placed upon a tripod, in which was burnt dry wood for giving light. Locks and keys were not common at that time. Bundles were secured with ropes intricately combined (a) ; and hence the famous Gordian knot. Shoes and stockings were not early known among them, nor buttons, nor saddles, nor stirrups. Plutarch reports, that Gracchus caused stones to be erected along the highways leading from Rome, for the convenience of mounting a horse; for at that time stirrups were unknown in Rome, though an obvious invention. Linen for shirts was not used in Rome for many years after the government became despotic. Even so late as the eighth century, it was not common in Europe. We are informed by Herodotus, that the Lydians were reputed to be the first who coined gold and silver money. This was probably after the Trojan war; for during that war the Greeks and Trojans trafficked by barter, as Homer relates: Priam weighs out the ten talents of gold which were the ransom of his son’s body.2
Thales, one of the seven wise men of Greece, about six hundred years before Christ, invented the following method for measuring the height of an Egyptian pyramid. He watched the progress of the sun, till his body and its shadow were of the same length; and at that instant measured the shadow of the pyramid, which consequently gave its height. Amasis King of Egypt, present at the operation, thought it a wonderful effort of genius; and the Greeks admired it highly. Geometry must have been in its cradle at that time. Anaximander, some ages before Christ, made the first map of the earth, as far as then known. About the end of the thirteenth century, spectacles for assisting the sight were invented by Alexander Spina, a monk of Pisa. So useful an invention cannot be too much extolled. At a period of life when the judgment is in maturity, and reading is of great benefit, the eyes begin to grow dim. One cannot help pitying the condition of bookish men before that invention, many of whom must have had their sight greatly impaired, while their appetite for reading was in vigour.
The origin and progress of writing make a capital article in the history of arts. To write, or, in other words, to exhibit thoughts to the eye, was early attempted in Egypt by hieroglyphics. But these were not confined to Egypt: figures composed of painted feathers were used in Mexico to express ideas; and by such figures Montezuma received intelligence of the Spanish invasion: in Peru, the only arithmetical figures known were knots of various colours, which served to cast up accounts. The second step naturally in the progress of the art of writing, is, to represent each word by a mark, termed a letter, which is the Chinese way of writing: they have about 11,000 of these marks or letters in common use; and, in matters of science, they employ to the number of 60,000. Our way is far more easy and commodious: instead of marks or letters for words, which are infinite, we represent by marks or letters, the articulate sounds that compose words: these sounds exceed not thirty in number; and consequently the same number of marks or letters are sufficient for writing. It was a lucky movement to pass at one step from hieroglyphics, the most imperfect mode of writing, to letters representing sounds, the most perfect; for there is no appearance that the Chinese mode was ever practised in this part of the world. With us, the learning to read is so easy as to be acquired in childhood; and we are ready for the sciences as soon as the mind is ripe for them: the Chinese mode, on the contrary, is an unsurmountable obstruction to knowledge; because, it being the work of a lifetime to read with ease, no time remains for studying the sciences. Our case was in some measure the same at the restoration of learning: it required an age to be familiarized with Greek and Latin; and too little time remained for gathering knowledge from books composed in these languages. The Chinese stand upon a more equal footing with respect to arts; for these may be acquired by imitation or oral instruction, without books.
The art of writing with letters representing sounds, is of all inventions the most important, and the least obvious. The way of writing in China makes so naturally the second step in the progress of the art, that our good fortune in stumbling upon a way so much more perfect cannot be sufficiently admired, when to it we are indebted for our superiority in literature above the Chinese. Their way of writing will for ever continue an unsurmountable obstruction to science; for it is so rivetted by inveterate practice, that the difficulty would not be greater to make them change their language than their letters. Hieroglyphics were a sort of writing, so miserably imperfect, as to make every improvement welcome; but as the Chinese make a tolerable shift with their own letters, they never dream of any improvement. Hence it may be pronounced with great certainty, that in China, the sciences, though still in infancy, will never arrive at maturity.
There is no appearance that writing was known in Greece so early as the time of Homer; for in none of his works is there any mention of it. This, it is true, is but negative evidence; but negative evidence must always command our assent, where no positive evidence stands in opposition. If it was known, it must have been newly introduced, and used probably to record laws, religious precepts, or other short compositions.3 Cyphers, invented in Hindostan, were brought into France from Arabia about the end of the tenth century. The art of printing made a great revolution in learning. In the days of William the Conqueror, books were extremely scarce. Grace Countess of Anjou paid for a collection of homilies two hundred sheep, a quarter of wheat, another of rye, and a third of millet, beside a number of martre skins.4
Husbandry made a progress from Egypt to Greece, and from Afric to Italy. Mago, a Carthaginian general, composed twenty-eight books upon husbandry, which were translated into Latin by order of the Roman senate. From these fine and fertile countries, it made its way to colder and less kindly climates. According to that progress, agriculture must have been practised more early in France than in Britain; and yet the English, at present, make a greater figure in that art than the French, inferiority in soil and climate notwith-standing. Before husbandry became an art in the northern parts of Europe, the French noblesse had deserted the country, fond of society in a town-life. Landed gentlemen in England, more rough, and delighting more in hunting and other country amusements, found leisure to practise agriculture. Skill in that art proceeded from them to their tenants, who now prosecute husbandry with success, though their landlords have generally betaken themselves to a town-life.
When Caesar invaded Britain, agriculture was unknown in the inner parts: the inhabitants fed upon milk and flesh, and were clothed with skins. Hollinshed, who wrote in the period of Queen Elisabeth, describes the rudeness of the preceding generation in the arts of life: “There were very few chimneys even in capital towns: the fire was laid to the wall, and the smoke issued out at the roof, or door, or window. The houses were wattled and plastered over with clay; and all the furniture and utensils were of wood. The people slept on straw-pallets, with a log of wood for a pillow.” Henry II. of France, at the marriage of the Duchess of Savoy, wore the first silk stockings that were made in France. Queen Elisabeth, the third year of her reign, received in a present a pair of black silk knit stockings; and Dr. Howel reports, that she never wore cloth hose any more. Before the conquest, there was a timber bridge upon the Thames between London and Southwark, which was repaired by King William Rufus, and was burnt by accident in the reign of Henry II. ann. 1176. At that time a stone bridge in place of it was projected, but not finished till the year 1212. The bridge of Notre-Dame over the Seine in Paris, was first of wood. It fell down anno 1499; and, as there was not in France a man who would undertake to rebuild it of stone, an Italian cordelier was employed, whose name was Joconde, the same upon whom Sanazarius made the following pun:
Two Genoese, Stephen Turquet and Bartholomew Narres, laid in 1536 the foundation of the silk manufacture at Lyons. The art of making glass was import-ed from France into England ann. 674, for the use of monasteries. Glass windows in private houses were rare even in the twelfth century, and held to be great luxury. King Edward III. invited three clockmakers of Delft in Holland to settle in England. In the former part of the reign of Henry VIII. there did not grow in England cabbage, carrot, turnip, or other edible root; and it has been noted, that even Queen Catharine herself could not command a salad for dinner, till the King brought over a gardener from the Netherlands. About the same time, the artichoke, the apricot, the damask rose, made their first appearance in England. Turkeys, carps, and hops, were first known there in the year 1524. The currant-shrub was brought from the island of Zant ann. 1533; and in the year 1540, cherry-trees from Flanders were first planted in Kent. It was in the year 1563 that knives were first made in England. Pocket-watches were brought there from Germany ann. 1577. About the year 1580, coaches were introduced; before which time Queen Elisabeth, on public occasions, rode behind her chamberlain. A saw-mill was erected near London ann. 1633, but afterward demolished, that it might not deprive the labouring poor of employment. How crude was the science of politics even in that late age? Coffee-houses were opened in London no sooner than the year 1652.6
People who are ignorant of weights and measures fall upon odd shifts to supply the defect. Howel Dha Prince of Wales, who died in the year 948, was a capital lawgiver. One of his laws is, “If any one kill or steal the cat that guards the Prince’s granary, he forfeits a milch ewe with her lamb; or as much wheat as will cover the cat when suspended by the tail, the head touching the ground.” By the same lawgiver a fine of twelve cows is enacted for a rape committed upon a maid, eighteen for a rape upon a matron. If the fact be proved after being denied, the criminal for his falsity pays as many shillings as will cover the woman’s posteriors. The measure of the mid stream for salmon among our forefathers is not less risible. It is, that the mid stream shall be so wide as that a swine may turn itself in it, without touching either side with its snout or tail.7
The negroes of the kingdom of Ardrah, in Guinea, have made great advances in arts. Their towns, for the most part, are fortified, and connected by great roads, kept in good repair. Deep canals from river to river are commonly filled with canoes, for pleasure some, and many for business. The vallies are pleasant, producing wheat, millet, yams, potatoes, lemons, oranges, cocoa-nuts, and dates. The marshy grounds near the sea are drained; and salt is made by evaporating the stagnating water. Salt is carried to the inland countries by the great canal of Ba, where numberless canoes are daily seen going with salt, and returning with gold dust or other commodities.
In all countries where the people are barbarous and illiterate, the progress of arts is wofully slow. It is vouched by an old French poem, that the virtues of the loadstone were known in France before 1180. The mariner’s compass was exhibited at Venice ann. 1260 by Paulus Venetus, as his own invention. John Goya of Amalphi was the first who, many years afterward, used it in navigation; and also passed for being the inventor. Though it was used in China for navigation long before it was known in Europe, yet to this day it is not so perfect as in Europe. Instead of suspending it in order to make it act freely, it is placed upon a bed of sand, by which every motion of the ship disturbs its operation. Hand-mills, termed querns, were early used for grinding corn; and when corn came to be raised in greater quantity, horse-mills succeeded. Water-mills for grinding corn are described by Vitruvius (a) . Wind-mills were known in Greece and in Arabia as early as the seventh century; and yet no mention is made of them in Italy till the fourteenth century. That they were not known in England in the reign of Henry VIII. appears from a household-book of an Earl of Northumberland, cotemporary with that King, stating an allowance for three mill-horses, “two to draw in the mill, and one to carry stuff to the mill and fro.” Water-mills for corn must in England have been of a later date. The ancients had mirror-glasses, and employed glass to imitate crystal vases and goblets: yet they never thought of using it in windows. In the thirteenth century, the Venetians were the only people who had the art of making crystal glass for mirrors. A clock that strikes the hours was unknown in Europe till the end of the twelth century. And hence the custom of employing men to proclaim the hours during night, which to this day continues in Germany, Flanders, and England. Galileo was the first who conceived an idea that a pendulum might be useful for measuring time; and Hughens was the first who put the idea in execution, by making a pendulum clock. Hook, in the year 1660, invented a spiral spring for a watch, though a watch was far from being a new invention. Paper was made no earlier than the fourteenth century; and the invention of printing was a century later. Silk manufactures were long established in Greece before silk-worms were introduced there. The manufacturers were provided with raw silk from Persia: but that commerce being frequently interrupted by war, two monks, in the reign of Justinian, brought eggs of the silk-worm from Hindostan, and taught their countrymen the method of managing them. The art of reading made a very slow progress. To encourage that art in England, the capital punishment for murder was remitted, if the criminal could but read, which in law-language is termed benefit of clergy. One would imagine that the art must have made a very rapid progress when so greatly favoured: but there is a signal proof of the contrary; for so small an edition of the Bible as six hundred copies, translated into English in the reign of Henry VIII. was not wholly sold off in three years. The people of England must have been profoundly ignorant in Queen Elisabeth’s time, when a forged clause added to the twentieth article of the English creed passed unnoticed till about forty years ago.* The Emperor Rodol-phus, anno 1281, appointed all public acts to be written in the German language, instead of Latin as formerly. This was imitated in France, but not till the year 1539. In Scotland to this day charters, seisins, precepts of Clare constat, and some other land-titles, continue to be in Latin, or rather in a sort of jargon. Ignorance is the mother of devotion, to the church and to lawyers.8
The discoveries of the Portuguese in the west coast of Africa, is a remarkable instance of the slow progress of arts. In the beginning of the fifteenth century, they were totally ignorant of that coast beyond Cape Non, 28 deg. north latitude. In 1410, the celebrated Prince Henry of Portugal fitted out a fleet for discoveries, which proceeded along the coast to Cape Bojadore, in 26 deg. but had not courage to double it. In 1418 Tristan Vaz discovered the island Porto Santo; and the year after, the island Madeira was discovered. In 1439 a Portuguese captain doubled Cape Bojadore; and the next year the Portuguese reached Cape Blanco, lat. 20 deg. In 1446 Nuna Tristan doubled Cape Verd, lat. 14° 40′. In 1448 Don Gonzallo Vallo took possession of the Azores. In 1449 the islands of Cape Verd were discovered for Don Henry. In 1471 Pedro d’Escovar discovered the island St. Thomas and Prince’s island. In 1484 Diego Cam discovered the kingdom of Congo. In 1486 Bartholomew Diaz, employed by John II. of Portugal, doubled the Cape of Good Hope, which he called Cabo Tormentoso, from the tempestuous weather he found in the passage.
More arts have been invented by accident than by investigation. The art of porcelain is more intricate than that of glass. The Chinese, however, have possessed the former many ages, without knowing any thing of the latter till they were taught by Europeans.9
The exertion of national spirit upon any particular art, promotes activity to prosecute other arts. The Romans, by constant study, came to excel in the art of war, which led them to improve upon other arts. Having in the progress of society acquired some degree of taste and polish, a talent for writing broke forth. Nevius composed in verse seven books of the Punic war, beside comedies, replete with bitter raillery against the nobility (a) . Ennius wrote annals, and an epic poem (b) . Lucius Andronicus was the father of dramatic poetry in Rome (c) . Pacuvius wrote tragedies (d) . Plautus and Terence wrote comedies. Lucilius composed satires, which Cicero esteems to be slight, and void of erudition (e) . Fabius Pictor, Cincius Alimentus, Piso Frugi, Valerius Antias, and Cato, were rather annalists than historians, confining themselves to naked facts, ranged in order of time. The genius of the Romans for the fine arts was much in-flamed by Greek learning, when free intercourse between the two nations was opened. Many of those who made the greatest figure in the Roman state commenced authors, Caesar, Cicero, &c. Sylla composed memoirs of his own transactions, a work much esteemed even in the days of Plutarch.
The progress of art seldom fails to be rapid, when a people happen to be roused out of a torpid state by some fortunate change of circumstances: prosperity contrasted with former abasement, gives to the mind a spring, which is vigorously exerted in every new pursuit. The Athenians made no figure under the tyranny of Pisistratus; but upon regaining freedom and independence, they became heroes. Miletus, a Greek city of Ionia, being destroyed by the King of Persia, and the inhabitants made slaves, the Athenians, deeply affected with the misery of their brethren, boldly attacked that King in his own dominions, and burnt the city of Sardis. In less than ten years after, they gained a signal victory over him at Marathon; and under Themistocles, made head against a prodigious army, with which Xerxes threatened utter ruin to Greece. Such prosperity produced its usual effect: arts flourished with arms, and Athens became the chief theatre for sciences as well as fine arts. The reign of Augustus Caesar, which put an end to the rancour of civil war, and restored peace to Rome with the comforts of society, proved an auspicious aera for literature; and produced a cloud of Latin historians, poets, and philosophers, to whom the moderns are indebted for their taste and talents. One who makes a figure rouses emulation in all: one catches fire from another, and the national spirit flourishes: classical works are composed, and useful discoveries made in every art and science. This fairly accounts for the following observation of Velleius Paterculus (a) , that eminent men generally appear in the same period of time. “One age,” says he, “produced Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, who advanced tragedy to a great height. In another age the old comedy flourished under Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes; and the new was inven-ted by Menander, and his cotemporaries Diphilus and Philemon, whose compositions are so perfect that they have left to posterity no hope of rivalship. The philosophic sages of the Socratic school, appeared all about the time of Plato and Aristotle. And as to rhetoric, few excelled in that art before Isocrates, and as few after the second descent of his scholars.” The historian applies the same observation to the Romans, and extends it even to grammarians, painters, statuaries, and sculptors. With regard to Rome, it is true that the Roman government under Augustus was in effect despotic: but despotism, in that single instance, made no obstruction to literature, it having been the politic of that reign to hide power as much as possible. A similar revolution happened in Tuscany about three centuries ago. That country was divided into many small republics, which, by mutual hatred, usual between nations in close neighbourhood, became ferocious and bloody. These republics being united under the Great Duke of Tuscany, enjoyed the sweets of peace in a mild government. That comfortable revolution, which made the deeper impression by a retrospect to recent calamities, roused the national spirit, and produced ardent application to arts and literature. The restoration of the royal family in England, which put an end to a cruel and envenomed civil war, promoted improvements of every kind: arts and industry made a rapid progress among the people, though left to themselves by a weak and fluctuating administration. Had the nation, upon that favourable turn of fortune, been blessed with a succession of able and virtuous princes, to what a height might not arts and sciences have been carried! In Scotland, a favourable period for improvements was the reign of the first Robert, after shaking off the English yoke: but the domineering spirit of the feudal system rendered abortive every attempt. The restoration of the royal family, mentioned above, animated the legislature of Scotland to promote manufactures of various kinds: but in vain; for the union of the two crowns had introduced despotism into Scotland, which sunk the genius of the people, and rendered them heartless and indolent. Liberty, indeed, and many other advantages, were procured to them by the union of the two kingdoms; but these salutary effects were long suspended by mutual enmity, such as commonly subsists between neighbouring nations. Enmity wore away gradually, and the eyes of the Scots were opened to the advantages of their present condition: the national spirit was roused to emulate and to excel: talents were exerted, hitherto latent; and Scotland, at present, makes a figure in arts and sciences, above what it ever made while an independent kingdom.*
Another cause of activity and animation, is the being engaged in some important action of doubtful event, a struggle for liberty, the resisting a potent invader, or the like. Greece, divided into small states, frequently at war with each other, advanced literature and the fine arts to unrivalled perfection. The Corsicans, while engaged in a perilous war for defence of their liberties, exerted a vigorous national spirit: they founded an university for arts and sciences, a public library, and a public bank. After a long stupor during the dark ages of Christianity, arts and literature revived among the turbulent states of Italy. The royal society in London, and the academy of sciences in Paris, were both of them instituted after civil wars that had animated the people, and roused their activity.
An useful art is seldom lost, because it is in constant practice. And yet, though many useful arts were in perfection during the reign of Augustus Caesar, it is amazing how ignorant and stupid men became, after the Roman empire was shattered by northern barbarians: they degenerated into savages. So ignorant were the Spanish Christians during the eighth and ninth centuries, that Alphonsus the Great, King of Leon, was necessitated to employ Mahometan preceptors for educating his eldest son. Even Charlemagne could not sign his name: nor was he singular in that respect, being kept in countenance by several neighbouring princes.
As the progress of arts and sciences toward perfection is greatly promoted by emulation, nothing is more fatal to an art or science than to remove that spur, as where some extraordinary genius appears who soars above rivalship. Mathematics seem to be declining in Europe: the great Newton, having surpassed all the ancients, has not left to the moderns even the faintest hope of equalling him; and what man will enter the lists who despairs of victory?
In early times, the inventors of useful arts were remembered with fervent gratitude. Their history became fabulous by the many incredible exploits attributed to them. Diodorus Siculus mentions the Egyptian tradition of Osiris, that with a numerous army he traversed every inhabited part of the globe, in order to teach men the culture of wheat and of the vine. Beside the impracticability of supporting a numerous army where husbandry is unknown, no army could enable Osiris to introduce wheat or wine among stupid savages who live by hunting and fishing; which probably was the case, in that early period, of all the nations he visited.
In a country thinly peopled, where even necessary arts want hands, it is common to see one person exercising more arts than one: in several parts of Scotland, the same man serves as a physician, surgeon, and apothecary. In a very populous country, even simple arts are split into parts, and there is an artist for each part: in the populous towns of ancient Egypt, a physician was confined to a single disease. In mechanic arts, that mode is excellent. As a hand confined to a single operation becomes both expert and expeditious, a mechanic art is perfected by having its different operations distributed among the greatest number of hands: many hands are employed in making a watch; and a still greater number in manufacturing a web of woollen cloth. Various arts or operations carried on by the same man, envigorate his mind, because they exercise different faculties; and, as he cannot be equally expert in every art or operation, he is frequently reduced to supply want of skill by thought and invention. Constant application, on the contrary, to a single ope-ration, confines the mind to a single object, and excludes all thought and invention: in such a train of life, the operator becomes dull and stupid, like a beast of burden. The difference is visible in the manners of the people: in a country where, from want of hands, several occupations must be carried on by the same person, the people are knowing and conversable: in a populous country where manufactures flourish, they are ignorant and unsociable. The same effect is visible in countries where an art or manufacture is confined to a certain class of men. It is visible in Hindostan, where the people are divided into casts, which never mix even by marriage, and where every man follows his father’s trade. The Dutch lint-boors are a similar instance: the same families carry on the trade from generation to generation, and are accordingly ignorant and brutish even beyond other Dutch peasants. The inhabitants of Buckhaven, a sea-port in the county of Fife, were originally a colony of foreigners, invited hither to teach our people the art of fishing. They continue fishers to this day, marry among themselves, have little intercourse with their neighbours, and are dull and stupid to a proverb.*
A gentleman of a moderate fortune passed his time while husbandry was asleep, like a Birmingham workman who hammers a button from morning to evening. A certain gentleman, for example, who lived on his estate, issued forth to walk as the clock struck eleven. Every day he trod the same path, leading to an eminence which opened a view of the sea. A rock on the summit was his seat, where, after resting an hour, he returned home at leisure. It is not a little singular, that this exercise was repeated day after day for forty-three years, without interruption for the last twenty years of the gentleman’s life. And though he has been long dead, the impression of his heels in the sod remains visible to this day. Men by inaction degenerate into oysters.10
[* ]The Ilinois are industrious above all their American neighbours. Their women are neat-handed: they spin the wool of their horned cattle, which is as fine as that of English sheep. The stuffs made of it are dyed black, yellow, or red, and cut into garments sewed with roe-buck sinews. After drying these sinews in the sun, and beating them, they draw out threads as white and fine as any that are made of flax, but much tougher.
[(a) ]Odyssey, b. 8. l. 483. Pope’s translation.
[2. ]“We are informed . . . his son’s body”: added in 2nd edition.
[3. ]In the 1st edition this paragraph begins: “The art of writing was known in Greece when Homer composed his two epics; for he gives somewhere a hint of it. It was at that time probably in its infancy, and used only for recording laws, religious precepts, or other short works” [1:93–94].
[4. ]“The art of . . . of martre skins”: added in 2nd edition.
[5. ]“Jocondus gave you an identical bridge [pontem ], Sequana; you can rightly call this one a high priest [pontificem ].” Sequana is the Latin name for the Seine; a cordelier is a strict Franciscan friar.
[6. ]“Coffee-houses were . . . the year 1652”: added in 2nd edition.
[7. ]“The measure of . . . snout or tail”: added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]L. 10. cap. 10.
[* ]In the act 13th Elisabeth, anno 1571, confirming the thirty-nine articles of the church of England, these articles are not engrossed, but referred to as comprised in a printed book, intitled, Articles agreed to by the whole clergy in the convocation holden at London 1562. The forged clause is, “The church has power to decree rites and ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith.” That clause is not in the articles referred to; nor the slightest hint of any authority with respect to matters of faith. In the same year 1571, the articles were printed both in Latin and English, precisely as in the year 1562. But soon after came out spurious editions, in which the said clause was foisted into the twentieth article, and continues so to this day. A forgery so impudent would not pass at present; and its success shows great ignorance in the people of England at that period.
[8. ]“The Emperor Rodolphus . . . and to lawyers”: added in 2nd edition.
[9. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.
[(a) ]Titus Livius, lib. 7. c. 2.
[(b) ]Quintilian, lib. 10. c. 17.
[(c) ]Cicero De oratore, lib. 2. N° 72.
[(d) ]—— De oratore, lib. 2. N° 193.
[(e) ]—— De finibus, lib. 1. N° 7.
[(a) ]Historia Romana, lib. 1. in fine.
[* ]In Scotland, an innocent bankrupt imprisoned for debt, obtains liberty by a process termed cessio bonorum. From the year 1694 to the year 1744, there were but twenty-four processes of that kind, which shows how languidly trade was carried on while the people remained ignorant of their advantages by the union. From that time to the year 1771, there have been thrice that number every year, taking one year with another; an evident proof of the late rapid progress of commerce in Scotland. Every one is roused to venture his small stock, though every one cannot be successful.
[* ]Population has one advantage not commonly thought of, which is, that it banishes ghosts and apparitions. Such imaginary beings are never seen but by solitary persons in solitary places. In great towns they are unknown: you never hear of such a thing in Holland, which in effect is one great town. [[Note added in 2nd edition.]]
[10. ]Paragraph added in 2nd edition.