Sidor som bilder


The sovereignty of the seas, which foreigners dispute with us, is as much a conquest as any one obtained on land; it is gained and preserved by our cannon, and the French, who, for ages past, exclaim against what they call our tyranny, are only hindered from becoming themselves universal tyrants over land and sea, by that sovereignty of the seas without which Great Britain would cease to exist.

In a late memoir of the French Institute, I read a bitter philippic against this sovereignty, and a notice adapted to the writer's purpose of two great works : the one by Selden, and the other by Grotius, on this subject. The following is the historical anecdote useful to revive.

In 1634 a dispute arose between the English and Dutch concerning the herring-fishery upon the British coast. The French and Dutch had always persevered in declaring that the seas were perfectly free; and grounded their reasons on a work of Hugo Grotius.

So early as in 1609 the great Grotius had published his treatise of Mare Liberum in favour of the freedom of the seas. And it is a curious fact, that in 1618, Selden had composed another treatise in defence of the king's dominion over the



seas; but which, from accidents which are known, was not published till the dispute revived the controversy. Selden, in 1636, gave the world his Mare Clausum, in answer to the treatise of Grotius.

Both these great men felt a mutual respect for each other. They only knew the rivalry of genius.

As a matter of curious discussion, and legal investigation, the philosopher must incline to the arguments of Selden, who has proved by records the first occupancy of the English ; and the English dominion over the four seas, to the utter exclusion of the French and Dutch from fishing, without our licence. He proves that our kings have always levied great sums, without even the concurrence of their parliaments, for the express purpose of defending this sovereignty at sea. A copy of Selden's work was placed in the council-chest of the Exchequer, and in the court of admiralty, as one of our most precious records.

The historical anecdote is finally closed by the Dutch themselves, who now agreed to acknowledge the English sovereignty in the seas, and pay a tribute of thirty thousand pounds to the King of England, for liberty to fish in the seas, and consented to annual tributes.

That the Dutch yielded to Selden's arguments is a triumph we cannot venture to boast. The ultima ratio regum prevailed; and when we had destroyed their whole fishing fleet, the affair appeared much clearer than in the ingenious volumes of Grotius or Selden. Another Dutchman presented the States-General with a ponderous reply to Selden's Mare Clausum, but the wise Sommelsdyke advised the states to suppress the idle discussion; observing that this affair must be decided by the sword, and not by

the pen.

It may be curious to add, that as no prevailing or fashionable subject can be agitated, but some idler must interfere to make it extravagant and very new, so this grave subject did not want for something of this nature. A learned Italian, I believe, agreed with our author Selden in general, that the sea, as well as the earth, is subjeet to some states; but he maintained, that the dominion of the sea belonged to the Genoese!


MR. MORIN, a French academician, has amused himself with collecting several historical notices of this custom. I give a summary, for the benefit of those who have had the honour of kissing his majesty's hand. It is not those who kiss the royal hand who could write best on the custom. This custom is not only very ancient, and nearly universal, but has been alike participated by religion and society.

To begin with religion. From the remotest times men saluted the sun, moon, and stars, by kissing the hand. Job assures us that he was never given to this superstition, xxxi. 26. The same honour was rendered to Baal, Kings i. 18. Other instances might be adduced.

We now pass to Greece. There all foreign superstitions were received. Lucian, after having mentioned various sorts of sacrifices which the rich offered the gods, adds, that the poor

adored them by the simpler compliment of kissing their hands. That author gives an anecdote of Demosthenes, which shows this custom. When a prisoner to the soldiers of Antipater, he asked to enter a temple.-When he entered, he touched his mouth with his hands, which the guards took for an act of religion. He did it, however, more securely to swallow the poison he had prepared for such an occasion. He mentions other instances.

From the Greeks it passed to the Romans. Pliny places it amongst those ancient customs of which they were ignorant of the origin or the

Persons were treated as atheists, who would not kiss their hands when they entered a temple. When Apuleius mentions Psyche, he says, she was so beautiful that they adored her as Venus, in kissing the right hand.


This ceremonial action rendered respectable the earliest institutions of Christianity. It was a custom with the primæval bishops to give their hands to be kissed by the ministers who served at the altar.

This custom, however, as a religious rite, declined with Paganism.

In society our ingenious academician considers the custom of kissing hands as essential to its welfare. It is a mute form, which expresses reconciliation, which entreats favours, or which thanks for those received. It is an universal language, intelligible without an interpreter; which doubtless preceded writing, and perhaps speech itself.

· Solomon says of the flatterers and suppliants of his time, that they ceased not to kiss the hands of their patrons, till they had obtained the favours which they solicited. In Homer we see Priam kissing the hands and embracing the knees of Achilles, while he supplicates for the body of Hector.

; This, custom prevailed in ancient Rome, but it varied. In the first ages of the republic, it seems to have been only practised by inferiors to their superiors :-equals gave their hands and embraced. In the progress of time even the soldiers refused to show this mark of respect to their generals; and their kissing the

« FöregåendeFortsätt »