Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION II. Oriental Manners, and the Ideas imbibed in Youth, both in the West and East Indies, favourable to the Spirit of Despotism. - The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5
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SECTION II. Oriental Manners, and the Ideas imbibed in Youth, both in the West and East Indies, favourable to the Spirit of Despotism. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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Oriental Manners, and the Ideas imbibed in Youth, both in the West and East Indies, favourable to the Spirit of Despotism.
The foundations of the fair fabric of liberty in Europe were laid in ages when there was but little intercourse, commercial or political, with the remote countries of Asia and America. A hardy race, in ungenial climates, with nerves strung by the northern blast, though little refined by knowledge, felt in an early age, the sentiments of manly virtue, and spurned the baseness of slavery. Luxury had not emasculated their minds; and they threw off, with native elasticity, the burden of unjust dominion. While they submitted, with graceful acquiescence, to all lawful authority, established by their own consent, for the general good; they preserved a noble consciousness of native dignity, and maintained a personal grandeur, a proud independence, a greatness unindebted to the morbid tumour of rank and riches.
In later times the facility of navigation and the improvements of science have brought into close connection the extremes of the habitable globe. The asperity of manners which sometimes disgraced the virtues of our forefathers, has indeed been softened by various and constant intercourse; the manly spirit has exchanged ferocity for gentleness, and rendered the energetic character consistent with the amiable. It was a happy change; for why should manly virtue assume a forbidding aspect, and lose the recommendation of engaging manners, the happiness of loving and being loved, while it commands, by deserving, cordial reverence?
But from the intercourse of England with the East and West Indies, it is to be feared that something of a more servile spirit has been derived, than was known among those who established the free constitutions of Europe, and than would have been adopted, or patiently borne, in ages of virtuous simplicity.
A very numerous part of our countrymen spend their most susceptible age, in those countries, where despotic manners remarkably prevail. They are themselves, when invested with office, treated by the natives with an idolatrous degree of reverence, which teaches them to expect a similar submission to their will, on their return to their own country. They have been accustomed to look up to personages greatly their superiors in rank and riches, with awe; and to look down on their inferiors in property, with supreme contempt, as slaves of their will and ministers of their luxury. Equal laws and equal liberty at home appear to them saucy claims of the poor and the vulgar, which tend to divest riches of one of the greatest charms, overbearing dominion.
We do indeed import gorgeous silks and luscious sweets from the Indies, but we import, at the same time, the spirit of despotism, which adds deformity to the purple robe, and bitterness to the honied beverage.
The vassals of the feudal times, it is true, were abject slaves; but their slavery was freedom, compared to the slavery of the negro. They were not driven by the whip to work in a torrid zone. They were not wanted to administer to personal luxury; for personal luxury did not exist. But the negro is rendered a two-legged beast of burden; and looks up to the infant son of his lord, as to a superior being, whom he is bound to obey, however vicious, whimsical, or cruel the command. Cradled in despotism, the young planter comes to England for education, and brings with him the early impressions which the few years’ residence in the land of freedom can seldom obliterate. He returns; grows rich by the labour of slaves, over whom, for the sake of personal safety, the most arbitrary government is exercised, and then perhaps retires to England to spend his age and his acquirements in the capital, the seat of pleasure, the theatre of commercial splendour and courtly magnificence. He mixes much in society, and inevitably communicates his ideas, which have now taken deep root, on the necessity of keeping the vulgar in a state of depression, and strengthening the hands of the rich and the powerful. In the virtuous struggles of the lower and middle ranks for constitutional liberty, is it likely that he should join the contest, on the side of the people? Is it not most probable, that he will throw all his weight, which, considering the weight of money, is often great, in opposition to the popular side? A long succession of such men, personally respectable, but, from peculiar circumstances, favouring the extension of power, and disposed, by habits and principles sucked in with the mother's milk, to repel the claims of their inferiors, must contribute greatly to diffuse, in a free country, the spirit of despotism.
That oriental manners are unfavourable to liberty, is, I believe, universally conceded. The natives of the East Indies entertain not the idea of independence. They treat the Europeans, who go among them to acquire their riches, with a respect similar to the abject submission which they pay to their native despots. Young men, who in England scarcely possessed the rank of the gentry, are waited upon in India with more attentive servility than is paid or required in many courts of Europe. Kings of England seldom assume the state enjoyed by an East India governor, or even by subordinate officers.
Enriched at an early age, the adventurer returns to England. His property admits him to the higher circles of fashionable life. He aims at rivalling or exceeding all the old nobility in the splendour of his mansions, the finery of his carriages, the number of his liveried train, the profusion of his table, in every indulgence, which an empty vanity can covet, and a full purse procure. Such a man, when he looks from the window of his superb mansion, and sees the people pass, cannot endure the idea, that they are of as much consequence as himself, in the eye of the law; and that he dares not insult or oppress the unfortunate being who rakes his kennel or sweeps his chimney. He must wish to increase the power of the rich and great, that the saucy vulgar may be kept at a due distance, that they may know their station, and submit their necks to the foot of pride.
The property of such a man will give him great weight in parliamentary elections. He probably purchases a borough. He sides with the court party on all questions; and is a great stickler for the extension of prerogative. In his neighbourhood, and as a voter for representatives, he uses all his interest in supporting such men as are likely to promote his views of aggrandizing the great, among whom he hopes to be associated, and in depressing the little, whom he despises and shuns. Having money sufficient, his present object is a title. This he knows can only come from the possessors of power, to whom therefore he pays such a submission as he has seen paid to himself in India by oriental slaves. His whole conduct tends to increase the influence of riches, from which alone, he is conscious, he derives his own importance. What is his eloquence? What his learning? What his beneficence to mankind? Little; perhaps none. But his estate is large, his house large, his park large, his manors many, his equipage, on a birth-day, the most splendid in St. James's-street. Long Acre gives him a passport to court favour. With a seat in the house, and an unrivalled equipage and mansion, he deems himself justly entitled to be made, in due time, a baronet at least, if not an hereditary lawgiver of his country.
By a constantly successive influx of such men from the eastern climes, furnished with the means of corruption, and inclined to promote arbitrary principles of government, it cannot be doubted, that much is contributed to the spirit of despotism. Who among them would not add to the mass of that power and splendour, to possess a large share of which, has been the first object of a life spent in unceasing cares, at the risk of health, and under a vertical sun?
And what is left to oppose the spirit of despotism thus animated in its progress by enormous opulence? Is it the virtue of the honest country gentleman, who lives on his estate, possessing nothing and hoping nothing from the favour of courts? Is it the independence of the middle and the lower ranks, too numerous to be bribed either by gifts or expectations? Both, it is to be feared, will be too slow in their opposition to the gigantic monster, if not too feeble. They will not often risk their repose in a dangerous contest with opulence and power. They stand in awe of the sword and the law; which, in bad times, have been equally used as instruments of injustice. Contented with the enjoyment of plenty, or the amusements of rural sports, they sink into a state of indifference to public affairs, and thus leave the field open to those who have no right to occupy it at all, much less exclusively.
Thus the community becomes divided into two descriptions of men; the corruptors and the indifferent; those who seek wealth and honours without virtue, and those who seek only their own ease, regardless of the public.
This indifference is scarcely less culpable than corruption. It must be laid aside. The independent country gentleman, seconded by the people, is the character, on whom liberty must rely, as on her firmest supporter, against the incursion of oriental pride. Let him preserve his independence by frugality. Let him beware of emulating either the oriental or occidental upstart, in expenses which he cannot equal without diminishing his patrimony and losing his independence. Let him cultivate every social virtue, reside on his estate, and become popular by exhibiting superior excellence both of heart and understanding. He will then do right to offer himself a candidate in his vicinity for a seat in the senate; because, as a senator, he will gain a power to act with effect against the increasing weight of corrupt influence. The truly whig party, the lovers of liberty and the people, is not only the most favourable to human happiness, but certainly most congenial to the constitution of England, and ought to be strengthened by the junction of all independent men, lovers of peace, liberty, and human nature.
The tory and jacobite spirit, under other more plausible names, is still alive, and has increased of late. All who have a just idea of the British constitution, and of the value of liberty, will oppose it, by cultivating manliness of spirit, by illuminating the minds of the people, and by inspiring them with a regard to truth, justice, and independence, together with a love of order and of peace, both internal and external.