Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. II. Sixteenth Century to the Restoration
Democritus His Utopia
By Robert Burton (1577–1640)
From Democritus Junior to the Reader

UTOPIAN parity is a kind of government, to be wished for, rather than effected, Respub. Christianopolitana, Campanella’s City of the Sun, and that new Atlantis, witty fictions, but mere chimeras: and Plato’s community in many things is impious, absurd, and ridiculous; it takes away all splendour and magnificence. I will have several orders, degrees of nobility, and those hereditary, not rejecting younger brothers in the mean time; for they shall be sufficiently provided for by pensions, or so qualified, brought up in some honest calling, they shall be able to live of themselves. I will have such a proportion of ground belonging to every barony: he that buys the land, shall buy the barony; he that by riot consumes his patrimony, and ancient demesnes, shall forfeit his honours. As some dignities shall be hereditary, so some again by election or gift (besides free offices, pensions, annuities) like our bishoprics, prebends, the Bassa’s palaces in Turkey, the procurators’ houses, and offices in Venice, which (like the golden apple) shall be given to the worthiest and best deserving both in war and peace, as a reward of their worth and good service, as so many goals for all to aim at (honos alit artes), 1 and encouragements to others. For I hate those severe, unnatural, harsh, German, French, and Venetian decrees, which exclude plebeians from honours: be they never so wise, rich, virtuous, valiant, and well qualified, they must not be patricians, but keep their own rank: this is naturæ bellum inferre, 2 odious to God and men; I abhor it. My form of government shall be monarchical;
        “… nunquam libertas gratior exstat,
Quam sub rege pio,” etc. 3
few laws, but those severely kept, plainly put down, and in the mother tongue, that every man may understand. Every city shall have a peculiar trade or privilege, by which it shall be chiefly maintained: and parents shall teach their children (one of three at least), bring up and instruct them in the mysteries of their own trade. In each town these several tradesmen shall be so aptly disposed as they shall free the rest from danger or offence. Fire-trades, as smiths, forge-men, brewers, bakers, metal-men, etc., shall dwell apart by themselves; dyers, tanners, felmongers, and such as use water, in convenient places by themselves: noisome or fulsome for bad smells, as butchers’ slaughterhouses, chandlers, curriers, in remote places, and some back lanes. Fraternities and companies I approve of, as merchants’ burses, colleges of druggers, physicians, musicians, etc., but all trades to be rated in the sale of wares, as our clerks of the market do bakers and brewers; corn it self, what scarcity soever shall come, not to exceed such a price. Of such wares as are transported or brought in, if they be necessary, commodious, and such as nearly concern man’s life, as corn, wood, coal, etc., and such provision we cannot want, I will have little or no custom paid, no taxes; but for such things as are for pleasure, delight, or ornament, as wine, spice, tobacco, silk, velvet, cloth of gold, lace, jewels, etc., a greater impost. I will have certain ships sent out for new discoveries every year, and some discreet men appointed to travel into all neighbour kingdoms by land, which shall observe what artificial inventions and good laws are in other countries, customs, alterations, or ought else, concerning war, or peace, which may tend to the common good;—ecclesiastical discipline, penes episcopos, 4 subordinate as the other; no impropriations, no lay patrons of church livings, or one private man, but common societies, corporations, etc., and those rectors of benefices to be chosen out of the universities, examined and approved as the literati in China. No parish to contain above a thousand auditors. If it were possible, I would have such priests as should imitate Christ, charitable lawyers should love their neighbours as themselves, temperate and modest physicians, politicians contemn the world, philosophers should know themselves, noblemen live honestly, tradesmen leave lying and cozening, magistrates corruption, etc. But this is impossible; I must get such as I may. I will therefore have of lawyers, judges, advocates, physicians, chirurgions, etc., a set number; and every man, if it be possible, to plead his own cause, to tell that tale to the judge, which he doth to his advocate, as at Fez in Africk, Bantam, Aleppo, Raguse, suam quisque caussam dicere tenetur; 5—those advocates, chirurgions, and physicians, which are allowed to be maintained out of the common treasure; no fees to be given or taken, upon pain of losing their places; or, if they do, very small fees, and when the cause is fully ended. He that sues any man shall put in a pledge, which if it be proved he hath wrongfully sued his adversary, rashly or maliciously, he shall forfeit and lose. Or else, before any suit begin, the plaintiff shall have his complaint approved by a set delegacy to that purpose: if it be of moment, he shall be suffered, as before, to proceed; if otherwise, they shall determine it. All causes shall be pleaded suppresso nomine, the parties’ names concealed, if some circumstances do not otherwise require. Judges and other officers shall be aptly disposed in each province, villages, cities, as common arbitrators to hear causes, and end all controversies; and those not single, but three at least on the bench at once, to determine or give sentence; and those again to sit by turns or lots, and not to continue still in the same office. No controversy to depend above a year, but, without all delays and further appeals, to be speedily dispatched, and finally concluded in that time allotted. These and all other inferior magistrates, to be chosen as the literati in China, or by those exact suffrages of the Venetians; and such again not be eligible, or capable of magistracies, honours, offices, except they be sufficiently qualified for learning, manners, and that by the strict approbation of deputed examinators: first, scholars to take place, then, soldiers; for I am of Vegetius his opinion, a scholar deserves better than a soldier, because unius ætatis sunt quæ fortiter fiunt, quæ vero pro utilitate reipub. scribuntur, æterna: 6 a soldier’s work lasts for an age, a scholar’s for ever. If they misbehave themselves, they shall be deposed, and accordingly punished; and, whether their offices be annual or otherwise, once a year they shall be called in question, and give an account: for men are partial and passionate, merciless, covetous, corrupt, subject to love, hate, fear, favour, etc., omne sub regno graviore regnum. 7 Like Solon’s Areopagites, or those Roman censors, some shall visit others, and be visited invicem themselves; they shall oversee that no prowling officer, under colour of authority, shall insult over his inferiors, as so many wild beasts, oppress, domineer, flay, grind, or trample on, be partial or corrupt, but that there be æquabile jus, justice equally done, live as friends and brethren together; and (which Sesellius would have and so much desires in his kingdom of France) a diapason and sweet harmony of kings, princes, nobles, and plebeians, so mutually tied and involved in love, as well as laws and authority, as that they never disagree, insult, or incroach one upon another. If any man deserve well in his office, he shall be rewarded;
        “… quis enim virtutem amplectitur ipsam,
  Præmia si tollas?…” 8
He that invents any thing for public good in any art or science, writes a treatise, or performs any noble exploit at home or abroad, shall be accordingly enriched, honoured, and preferred. I say, with Hannibal in Ennius, Hostem qui feriet, mihi erit Carthaginiensis: 9 let him be of what condition he will, in all offices, actions, he that deserves best shall have best.
Note 1. honos alit artes = honour fosters arts. [back]
Note 2. naturæ bellum inferre = to wage war against nature. [back]
Note 3. nunquam libertas, etc. = liberty is never so pleasing as under a good king. [back]
Note 4. penes episcopos = in the hands of bishops. [back]
Note 5. suam quisque, etc. = each man is bound to plead his own cause. [back]
Note 6. unius ætatis sunt, etc. = brave deeds belong to one age, but what is written for the commonweal is immortal. [back]
Note 7. omne sub regno, etc. = every kingdom is subject to some stronger kingdom. [back]
Note 8. quis enim virtutem, etc. = for who is ready to embrace even virtue, if you take away its rewards. [back]
Note 9. Hostem qui feriet, etc. = he who shall strike the foe, is for me a Carthaginian. [back]
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