Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION III: The refinement of the passions of Sex, in the Pastoral Ages. - The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks
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SECTION III: The refinement of the passions of Sex, in the Pastoral Ages. - John Millar, The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks 
The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks; or, An Inquiry into the Circumstances which give rise to Influence and Authority in the Different Members of Society, edited and with an Introduction by Aaron Garrett (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2006).
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The refinement of the passions of Sex, in the Pastoral Ages.
When we examine the circumstances which occasion the depression of the women, and the low estimation in which they are held, in a simple and barbarous age, we may easily imagine in what manner their condition is varied and improved in the subsequent periods of society. Their condition is naturally improved by every circumstance which tends to create more attention to the pleasures of sex, and to increase the value of those occupations that are suited to the female character; by the cultivation of the arts of life; by the advancement of opulence; and by the gradual refinement of taste and manners. From a view of the progress of society, in these respects, we may, in a great measure, account for the diversity that occurs among different nations, in relation to the rank of the sexes, their dispositions and sentiments towards each other, and the regulations which they have established in the several branches of their domestic economy.
The invention of taming and pasturing cattle, which may be regarded as the first remarkable improvement in the savage life, is productive of<58> very important alterations in the state and manners of a people.
A shepherd is more regularly supplied with food, and is commonly subjected to fewer hardships and calamities than those who live by hunting and fishing. In proportion to the size of his family, the number of his flocks may in some measure be increased; while the labour which is requisite for their management can never be very oppressive. Being thus provided with necessaries, he is led to the pursuit of those objects which may render his situation more easy and comfortable; and among these the enjoyments derived from the intercourse of the sexes claim a principal share, and become an object of attention.
The leisure, tranquillity, and retirement of a pastoral life, seem calculated, in a peculiar manner, to favour the indulgence of those indolent gratifications. From higher notions of refinement a nicer distinction is made with regard to the objects of desire; and the mere animal pleasure is more frequently accompanied with a correspondence of inclination and sentiment. As this must occasion a great diversity in the taste of individuals, it proves, on many occasions, an obstruction to their happiness, and prevents the lover from meeting with a proper return to his passion. But the delays and the uneasiness to which he is thereby subjected, far from repressing the ardour of his wishes, serve only to increase it; and, amid the idleness and<59> freedom from other cares which his situation affords, he is often wholly occupied by the same tender ideas, which are apt to inflame his imagination, and to become the principal subject of such artless expressive songs as he is capable of composing for his ordinary pastime and amusement.
In consequence of these improvements the virtue of chastity begins to be recognized; for when love becomes a passion, instead of being a mere sensual appetite, it is natural to think that those affections which are not dissipated by variety of enjoyment, will be the purest and the strongest.
The acquisition of property among shepherds has also a considerable effect upon the commerce of the sexes.
Those who have no other fund for their subsistence but the natural fruits of the earth, or the game which the country affords, are acquainted with no other distinctions in the rank of individuals, but such as arise from their personal accomplishments; distinctions which are never continued for any length of time in the same family, and which therefore can never be productive of any lasting influence and authority. But the invention of taming and pasturing cattle gives rise to a more remarkable and permanent distinction of ranks. Some persons, by being more industrious or more fortunate than others, are led in a short time to acquire more numerous herds and flocks, and are thereby enabled to live in greater affluence, to maintain a<60> number of servants and retainers, and to increase, in proportion, their power and dignity. As the superior fortune which is thus acquired by a single person is apt to remain with his posterity, it creates a train of dependance in those who have been connected with the possessor; and the influence which it occasions is gradually augmented, and transmitted from one generation to another.
The degree of wealth acquired by single families of shepherds is greater than may at first be imagined. In the eastern parts of Tartary, where the inhabitants are chiefly maintained upon the flesh of rein-deer, many of the rich possess ten or twenty thousand of those animals; and one of the chiefs of that country, according to an account lately published, was proprietor of no less than an hundred thousand.
The introduction of wealth, and the distinction of ranks with which it is attended, must interrupt the communication of the sexes, and, in many cases, render it difficult for them to gratify their wishes. As particular persons become opulent, they are led to entertain suitable notions of their own dignity; and, while they aim at superior elegance and refinement in their pleasures, they disdain to contract an alliance with their own dependents, or with people of inferior condition. If great families, upon an equal footing, happen to reside in the same neighbourhood, they are frequently engaged in mutual depredations, and are<61> obliged to have a watchful eye upon the conduct of each other, in order to defend their persons and their property. The animosities and quarrels which arise from their ambition or desire of plunder, and which are fomented by reciprocal injuries, dispose them, in all cases, to behave to one another with distance and reserve, and sometimes prove an insuperable bar to their correspondence.
Among persons living upon such terms, the passions of sex cannot be gratified with the same facility as among hunters and fishers. The forms of behaviour, naturally introduced among individuals jealous of each other, have a tendency to check all familiarity between them, and to render their approaches towards an intimacy proportionably slow and gradual. The rivalship subsisting between different families, and the mutual prejudices which they have long indulged, must often induce them to oppose the union of their respective relations: And thus the inclinations of individuals having in vain been smothered by opposition, will break forth with greater vigour, and rise at length to a higher pitch, in proportion to the difficulties which they have surmounted.
Upon the eastern coast of Tartary, it is said that such tribes as are accustomed to the pasturing of cattle discover some sort of jealousy with regard to the chastity of their women; a circumstance regarded as of no importance by those inhabitants of<62> the same country who procure their subsistence merely by fishing.*
From what is related of the patriarch Jacob, it would seem that those families or tribes of shepherds which were anciently scattered over the country of Arabia, had attained some degree of improvement in their manners.
“And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter.
“And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee than that I should give her to another man: abide with me.
“And Jacob served seven years for Rachel: and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.”†
In the compositions of Ossian, which describe the manners of a people acquainted with pasturage, there is often a degree of tenderness and delicacy of sentiment which can hardly be equalled in the most refined productions of a civilized age. Some allowance no doubt must be made for the heightening of a poet possessed of uncommon genius and sensibility; but, at the same time, it is probable, that the real history of his countrymen was the groundwork of those events which he has related,<63> and of those tragical effects which he frequently ascribes to the passion between the sexes.‡
“Lorma sat in Aldo’s hall, at the light of a flaming oak: the night came, but he did not return, and the soul of Lorma is sad.—What detains thee, Hunter of Cona? for thou didst promise to return.—Has the deer been distant far, and do the dark winds sigh round thee on the<64> heath? I am in the land of strangers, where is my friend, but Aldo? Come from thy echoing hills, O my best beloved!
“Her eyes are turned towards the gate, and she listens to the rustling blast. She thinks it is Aldo’s tread, and joy rises in her face:—but sorrow returns again, like a thin cloud on the moon.—And thou wilt not return, my love? Let me behold the face of the hill. The moon is in the east. Calm and bright is the breast of the lake! When shall I behold his dogs returning from the chace? When shall I hear his voice loud and distant on the wind? Come from thy echoing hills, Hunter of Woody Cona!
“His thin ghost appeared on a rock, like the watery beam of the moon, when it rushes from between two clouds, and the midnight shower is on the field.—She followed the empty form over the heath, for she knew that her hero fell.—I heard her approaching cries on the wind, like the mournful voice of the breeze, when it sighs on the grass of the cave.
“She came, she found her hero: her voice was heard no more: silent she rolled her sad eyes; she was pale as a watery cloud, that rises from the lake to the beam of the moon.
“Few were her days on Cona: she sunk into the tomb: Fingal commanded his bards, and they sung over the death of Lorma. The daughters <65>of Morven mourned her for one day in the year, when the dark winds of autumn returned.”*
In the agreeable pictures of the golden age, handed down from remote antiquity, we may discover the opinion that was generally entertained of the situation and manners of shepherds. Hence that particular species of poetry, which is now appropriated by fashion, to describe the pleasures of rural retirement, accompanied with innocence and simplicity, and with the indulgence of all the tender passions. There is good reason to believe, that these representations of the pastoral life were not inconsistent with the real condition of shepherds, and that the poets, who were the first historians, have only embellished the traditions of early times. In Arcadia, in Sicily, and in some parts of Italy, where the climate was favourable to the rearing of cattle, or where the inhabitants were but little exposed to the depredations of their neighbours, it is probable that the refinement natural to the pastoral state was carried to a great height. This refinement was the more likely to become the subject of exaggeration and poetical embellishment; as, from a view of the progressive improvements in society, it was contrasted, on the one hand, with the barbarous manners of mere savages; and, on the other, with the opposite style of behaviour in polished nations, who, being con-<66>stantly engaged in the pursuit of gain, and immersed in the cares of business, have contracted habits of industry, avarice, and selfishness.
[* ]History of Kamtschatka [[215, 223.]]
[† ]Genesis, chap. xxix. ver. 18, 19, 20.
[‡ ][[James Macpherson, “The Battle of Lora, a Poem,” in The Poems of Ossian and Related Works, ed. Howard Gaskill (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996), 122–23. James Macpherson (1736–96) was a poet of Highland origins who wrote a series of poems, putatively sung by a bard named Ossian and putatively belonging to a larger epic, that drew on Gaelic sources but were mainly the product of Macpherson’s own imagination. The poems, combining Gaelic imagery and a long list of Gaelic names with a faux Homeric style, presented many of the leading lights of the Scottish Enlightenment—John Home, Hugh Blair, Lord Kames, and others—with the primitive, natural rough-hewn genius they had hoped for. Hume dissented from acclaiming the poem, but Millar clearly viewed it as genuine. As this poet was chiefly employed in describing grand and sublime objects, he has seldom had occasion to introduce any images taken from the pastoral life. From the following passages, however, there can be no doubt that, in his time, the people in the West-Highlands of Scotland, as well as upon the neighbouring coast of Ireland, were acquainted with pasturage. “The deer descend from the hill. No hunter at a distance is seen. No whistling cow-herd is nigh.” Carric-thura.
[* ]The battle of Lora. [[Ibid., 123.]]
[3. ]Ovid Metamorphoses I.94–108.