Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Degradation of Italy
By Algernon Sidney (1623–1683)
From Discourses on Government

WHILST Italy was inhabited by nations governing themselves by their own will, they fell sometimes into domestic seditions, and had frequent wars with their neighbours. When they were free, they loved their country, and were always ready to fight in its defence. Such as succeeded well, increased in vigour and power; and even those who were the most unfortunate in one age found means to repair their greatest losses, if their government continued. While they had a property in their goods, they would not suffer the country to be invaded, since they knew they could have none, if it were lost. This gave occasion to wars and tumults; but it sharpened their courage, kept up a good discipline, and the nations that were most exercised by them always increased in power and number: so that no country seems ever to have been of greater strength than Italy was, when Hannibal invaded it: and after his defeat the rest of the world was not able to resist their valour and power. They sometimes killed one another, but their enemies never got anything but burying-places within their territories. All things are now brought into a very different method by the blessed governments they are under. The fatherly care of the King of Spain, the pope, and other princes, has established peace among them. We have not in many ages heard of any sedition among the Latins, Sabines, Volsci, Equi, Samnites, or others. The thin, half-starved inhabitants of walls supported by ivy fear neither popular tumults nor foreign alarms; and their sleep is only interrupted by hunger, the cries of their children, or the howling of wolves. Instead of many turbulent, contentious cities, they have a few scattered, silent cottages; and the fierceness of those nations is so tempered, that every rascally collector of taxes extorts, without fear, from every man, that which should be the nourishment of his family. And if any of those countries are free from these pernicious vermin, it is through the extremity of their poverty. Even in Rome a man may be circumvented by the fraud of a priest, or poisoned by one who would have his estate, wife, whore, or child; but nothing is done that looks like tumult or violence. The governors do as little fear Gracchus as Hannibal; and instead of wearying their subjects in wars, they only seek, by perverted laws, corrupt judges, false witnesses, and vexatious suits, to cheat them of their money and inheritance. This is the best part of their condition. Where these arts are used, there are men, and they have something to lose; but for the most part the lands be waste; and they, who were formerly troubled with the disorders incident to populous cities, now enjoy the quiet and peaceable estate of a wilderness.

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