I want to give an excited endorsement to a particular passage I've been directed to. The parallels between the fall of Rome and America's decline are chilling. But consider John G. Sheppard's book, The Fall of Rome and the Rise of New Nationalities. Here, we read "a passage in which he transfers the whole comi-tragedy from Italy of old to England in 1861."
But in order to convey to the uninitiated some idea of th estate of society under Caesarian rule, and which a Caesarian rule, so far as mere government is concerned, if it does not produce, has never shewn any tendency to prevent, let us give reins to imagination for a moment, and picture to ourselves a few social and political analogies in our own England of the nineteenth century.This passage inspires me to return to Edward Gibbon's Fall of Rome. If only I had the time.
An entire revolution has taken place in our principles, manners, and form of government. Parliaments, meetings, and all the ordinary expressions of the national will, are no longer in existence, A free press has shared their fate. There is no accredited organ of public opinion ; indeed there is no public opinion to record. Lords and Commons have been swept away, though a number of the richest old gentlemen in London meet daily at Westminster to receive orders from Buckingham Palace. But at the palace itself has broken out one of those sanguinary conspiracies which have of late become unceasing. The last heir of the house of Brunswick is lying dead with a dagger in his heart, and everything is in frightful confusion. The armed force of the capital are of course "masters of the situation," and the Guards, after a tumultuous meeting at Windsor or Knightsbridge, have sold the throne to Baron Rothschild, for a handsome donation of £25 a-piece. Lord Clyde, however, we may be sure, is not likely to stand this, and in a few months will be marching upon London at the head of the Indian Army. In the mean time the Channel Fleet has declared for its own commander, has seized upon Plymouth and Portsmouth, and intends to starve the metropolis by stopping the imports of " bread-stuffs " at the mouth of the Thames. And this has become quite possible ; for half the population of London, under the present state of things, subsist upon free distributions of corn dispensed by the occupant of the throne for the time being.
But a more fatal change than even this has come over the population of the capital and of the whole country. The free citizens and apprentices of London ; the sturdy labourers of Dorsetshire and the eastern counties; and the skilful artizans of Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham; the mariners and shipwrights of Liverpool, have been long ago drafted into marching regiments, and have left their bones to bleach beneath Indian suns and Polar snows. Their place has been supplied by countless herds of negro slaves, who till the fields and crowd the workshops of our towns, to the entire exclusion of free labour ; for the free population, or rather the miserable relics of them, disdain all manual employment : they divide their time between starvation and a degrading debauchery, the means for which are sedulously provided by the government. The time-honoured institutions of the bull-bait, the cockpit, and the ring, are in daily operation, under the most distinguished patronage. Hyde Park has been converted into a gigantic arena, where criminals from Newgate " set-to " with the animals from the Zoological Gardens. Every fortnight there is a Derby Day, and the whole population pour into the Downs with frantic excitement, leaving the city to the slaves.
And then the moral condition of this immense mass ! Of the doings about the palace we should be sorry to speak. But the lady patronesses of Almack's still more assiduously patronize the prize-fights, and one of them has been seen within the ropes, in battle array, by the side of Sayers himself. No tongue may tell the orgies enacted, with the aid of French cooks, Italian singers, and foreign artists of all sorts, in the gilded saloons of Park Lane and Mayfair. Suflfice to say, that in them the worst passions of human nature have full swing, unmodified by any thought of human or divine restraints, and only dashed a little now and then by the apprehension that the slaves may rise, and make a clean sweep of the metropolis with fire and steel. But n'importe — Vive la bagatelle ! Mario has just been appointed prime minister, and has made a chorus singer from the Opera Duke of Middlesex and Governor-General of India.
All wise men and all good men despair of the state, but they are not permitted to say anything, much less to act. Mr. Disraeli lost his head a few days ago ; Lords Palmerston and Derby lie in the Tower under sentence of death ; Lord Brougham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mr. Gladstone, opened their veins and died in a warm bath last week.
Foreign relations will make a still greater demand on the reader's imagination. We must conceive of England no longer as
" A precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive of a house."
but rather as open to the inroad of every foe whom her aggressive and colonizing genius has provoked. The red man of the West, the Caffre, the Sikh, and the Sepoy, Chinese braves, and fierce orientals of all sorts, are hovering on her frontiers in "numbers numberless," as the flakes of snow in the northern winter. They are not the impotent enemy which we know, but vigorous races, supplied from inexhaustible founts of population, and animated by an insatiate appetite for the gold and silver, purple and fine linen, rich meats and intoxicating drinks of our effete civilization. And we can no longer oppose them with those victorious legions which have fought and conquered in all regions of the world. The men of Waterloo and Inkermann are no more. We are compelled to recruit our armies from those very tribes before whose swords we are receding !
Doubtless the ordinary reader will believe this picture to be overcharged, drawn with manifest exaggeration, and somewhat questionable taste. Every single statement which it contains may be paralleled by the circumstances and events of the decadence of the Roman Empire. [...].
Mr. Sheppard should have added, to make the picture complete, that the Irish have just established popery across St. George's Channel, by the aid of re-immigrants from America; that Free Kirk and National Kirk are carrying on a sanguinary civil war in Scotland ; that the Devonshire Wesleyans have just sacked Exeter cathedral, and murdered the Bishop at the altar, while the Bishop of London, supported by the Jews and the rich churchmen (who are all mixed up in financial operations with Baron Rothschild) has just commanded all Dissenters to leave the metropolis within three days, under pain of death.
I must add yet one more feature to this fearful, but accurate picture, and say how, a few generations forward, an even uglier thing would be seen. The English aristocracy would have been absorbed by foreign adventurers. The grandchildren of these slaves and mercenaries would be holding the highest offices in the state and the army, naming themselves after the masters who had freed them, or disguising their barbarian names by English endings. The De Fung-Chowvilles would be Dukes, the Little-grizzly-bear-Joe-Smiths Earls, and the Fitz-Stanleysons, descended from a king of the gipsies who enlisted to avoid transportation, and in due time became Commander-in-Chief, would rule at Knowsley in place of the Earl of Derby, having inherited the same by the summary process of assassination. Beggars on horseback, only too literally; married, most of them, to Englishwomen of the highest rank ; but looking on England merely as a prey ; without patriotism, without principle ; they would destroy the old aristocracy by legal murders, grind the people, fight against their yet barbarian cousins outside, as long as they were in luck : but the moment the luck turned against them, would call in those barbarian cousins to help them, and invade England every ten years with heathen hordes, armed no more with tulwar and matchlock, but with Enfield rifle and Whitworth cannon.
And that, it must be agreed, would be about the last phase of the British empire. If you will look through the names which figure in the high places of the Roman empire, during the fourth and fifth centuries, you will see how few of them are really Roman. If you will try to investigate, not their genealogies — for they have none — not a grandfather among them — but the few facts of their lives which have come down to us ; you will see how that Nemesis had fallen on her which must at last fall on every nation which attempts to establish itself on slavery as a legal basis. Rome had become the slave of her own slaves.