From The Bibliophile Library of Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, compiled and arranged by Nathan Haskell Dole, Forrest Morgan, and Caroline Ticknor; The International Bibliophile Society, New York-London; 1904; pp. 65-69.
[CHARLES ROLLIN: A French historian; born January, 1661. He was Professor of Rhetoric at the Collège du Plessis and later at the Collège du France. He revived the study of Greek and made reforms in the system of education. He published in 1726 a work of the Study of Belles-Lettres; in 1738 a History of Rome; and from 1730 to 1738 his still famous and readable “Ancient History.” He died in 1741.]
HUSBANDMEN, shepherds, and artificers formed the three classes of lower life in Egypt, but were nevertheless held in very great esteem, particularly husbandmen and shepherds. The body politic requires a superiority and subordination of its several members; for as in the natural body, the eye may be said to hold the first rank, yet its luster does not dart contempt upon the feet, the hands, or even on those parts which are less honorable; in like manner, among the Egyptians, the priests, soldiers, and scholars were distinguished by particular honors; but all professions, to the meanest, had their share in 66 the public esteem, because the despising of any man, whose labors, however mean, were useful to the state, was thought a crime.
A better reason than the foregoing might have inspired them at the first with these sentiments of equity and moderation, which they so long preserved. As they all descended from Ham, their common father, the memory of their still recent origin, occurring to the minds of all in those first ages, established among them a kind of equality, and stamped, in their opinion, a nobility on every person derived from the common stock. Indeed, the difference of conditions, and the contempt with which persons of the lowest ranks are treated, are owing merely to the distance from the common root, which makes us forget, that the meanest plebeian, when his descent is traced back to the source, is equally noble with the most elevated rank and title.
Be that as it will, no profession in Egypt was considered as groveling or sordid, By this means arts were raised to their highest perfection. The honor which cherished them mixed with every thought and care for their improvement. Every man had his way of life assigned him by the laws, and it was perpetuated from father to son. Two professions at one time, or a change of that which a man was born to, were never allowed. By this means, men became more able and expert in employments which they had always exercised from their infancy; and every man, adding his own experience to that of his ancestors, was more capable of attaining perfection in his particular art. Besides, this wholesome institution, which had been established anciently throughout Egypt, extinguished all irregular ambition, and taught every man to sit down contented with his condition, without aspiring to one more elevated, from interest, vainglory, or levity.
From this source flowed numberless inventions for the improvement of all the arts, and for rendering life more commodious, and trade more easy. I could not believe that Diodorus was in earnest in what he relates concerning the Egyptian industry, viz.: that this people had found a way, by an artificial fecundity, to hatch eggs without the sitting of the hen; but all modern travelers declare it to be a fact, which certainly is worthy our curiosity and is said to be practiced in some places of Europe. Their relations inform us, that the Egyptians stow eggs in ovens, which are heated to such a 67 temperature, and with such just proportion to the natural warmth of the hen, that the chickens produced from these means are as strong as those which are hatched the natural way. The season of the year proper for this operation is from the end of December to the end of April, the heat in Egypt being too violent in the other months. During these four months, upwards of three hundred thousand eggs are laid in these ovens, which, though they are not all successful, nevertheless produce vast numbers of fowls at an easy rate. The art lies in giving the ovens a due degree of heat, which must not exceed a fixed proportion. About ten days are bestowed in heating these ovens, and very near as much time in hatching the eggs. It is very entertaining, say these travelers, to observe the hatching of these chickens, some of which show at first nothing but their heads, others but half their bodies, and others again come quite out of the egg; these last, the moment they are hatched, make their way over the unhatched eggs, and form a diverting spectacle. Corneille le Bruyn, in his Travels, has collected the observations of other travelers on this subject. Pliny likewise mentions it; but it appears from him, that the Egyptians, anciently, employed warm dung, not ovens, to hatch eggs.
I have said, that husbandmen particularly, and those who took care of flocks, were in great esteem in Egypt, some parts of it excepted, where the latter were not suffered.* It was, indeed, to these two professions that Egypt owed its riches and plenty. It is astonishing to reflect what advantages the Egyptians, by their art and labor, drew from a country of no great extent but whose soil was made wonderfully fruitful by the inundations of the Nile, and the laborious industry of the inhabitants.
It will be always so with every kingdom whose governors direct all their actions to the public welfare. The culture of lands, and the breeding of cattle, will be an inexhaustible fund of wealth in all countries, where, as in Egypt, these profitable callings are supported and encouraged by maxims of state policy. And we may consider it as a misfortune, that they are at present fallen into so general a disesteem; though it is from them 68 that the most elevated ranks, as we esteem them, are furnished not only with the necessaries, but even the luxuries of life. “For,” says Abbé Fleury, in his admirable work “Of the Manners of the Israelites,” where the subject I am upon is thoroughly examined, “it is the peasant who feeds the citizen, the magistrate, the gentleman, the ecclesiastic: and whatever artifice or craft may be used to convert money into commodities, and these back again into money, yet all must ultimately be owned to be received from the products of he earth, and the animals that it sustains and nourishes. Nevertheless, when we compare men’s different stations of life together, we give the lowest place to the husbandman; and with many people a wealthy citizen, enervated with sloth, useless to the public, and void of all merit, has the preference, merely because he has more money, and lives a more easy and delightful life.
“But let us imagine to ourselves a country where so great a difference is not made between the several conditions; where the life of a nobleman is not made to consist in idleness and doing nothing, but in a careful preservation of his liberty, that is, in a due subjection to the laws and the constitution; by a man’s subsisting upon his estate without dependence on any one, and being contented to enjoy a little with liberty, rather than a great deal at the price of mean and base compliances: a country where sloth, effeminacy, and the ignorance of things necessary for life are held in just contempt, and where pleasure is less valued than health and bodily strength: in such a country, it will be much more for a man’s reputation to plow, and keep flocks, than to waste all his hours, in sauntering from place to place in gaming, and expensive diversions.” But we need not have recourse to Plato’s commonwealth for instances of men who have led these useful lives. It was thus that the greatest part of mankind lived during near four thousand years, and that not only the Israelites, but the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, that is to say, nations the most civilized, and most renowned for arms and wisdom. They all inculcate the regard which ought to be paid to agriculture and the breeding of cattle; one of which (without saying anything of hemp and flax, so necessary for our clothing) supplies us, by corn, fruits, and pulse, with not only a plentiful but a delicious nourishment; and the other, besides its supply of exquisite meats to cover our tables, almost alone gives life to manufactures and trade, by the skins and stuffs it furnishes.69
Princes are commonly desirous, and their interest certainly requires it, that the peasant, who, in a literal sense, sustains the heat and burden of the day, and pays so great a portion of the national taxes, should meet with favor and encouragement. But the kind and good intentions of princes are too often defeated by the insatiable and merciless avarice of those who are appointed to collect their revenues. History has transmitted to us a fine saying of Tiberius on this head. A prefect of Egypt, having augmented the annual tribute of the province, and doubtless with the view of making his court to the emperor, remitted to him a sum much larger than was customary, that prince, who in the beginning of his reign thought, or at least spoke, justly, answered, That it was his design not to flay, but to shear, his sheep.
* Swineherds, in particular, had a general ill name throughout Egypt, as they had the care of so impure an animal. Herodotus, l. ii. c. 47, tells us, that they were not permitted to enter the Egyptian temples, nor would any man give them his daughter in marriage.