Abbildungen der Seite

piness upon the easy terms of repentance, contributes greatly to lessen the horror of the last scene of the tragedy.

The punishment of death is pernicious to society, from the example of barbarity it affords. If the passions, or the necessity of war, have taught men to shed the blood of their fellow creatures, the laws, which are intended to moderate the ferocity of mankind, should not increase it by examples of barbarity, the more horrible as this punishment is usually attended with formal pageantry. Is it not absurd that the laws, which detest and punish homicide, should, in order to prevent murder, publicly commit murder themselves?What are the natural sentiments of every person concerning the punishment of death? We may read them in the contempt and indignation with which every one looks on the executioner; who is nevertheless an innocent executor of the public will? What then is the origin of this contradiction? Why is this sentiment of mankind indelible? It is, that in a secret corner of the mind, in which the original impressions of nature are still preserved, men discover a sentiment which tells them, that their lives are not lawfully in the power of any one, but of that necessity only, which, with its iron sceptre, rules the universe.

What must men think when they see wise magistrates and grave ministers of justice, with indifference and tranquility, dragging a criminal to death, and whilst a wretch trembles with agony, expecting the fatal stroke, the judge who has condemned

K 2

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

demned him, with the coldest insensibility, and perhaps, with no mall gratification from the exertion of his authority, quits his tribunal to enjoy the comforts and pleasures of life? They will say: "Ah! those cruel formalities of justice are "a cloak to tyranny; they are a secret language,


a solemn veil, intended to conceal the sword by "which we are sacrificed to the insatiable idol of despotism. Murder, which they would repre"sent to us as an horrible crime, we see practised by them without repugnance or remorse. Lét "us follow their example. A violent death ap"peared terrible in their descriptions, but we see "that it is the affair of a moment. It will be still less terrible to him, who, not expecting it, escapes almost all the pain." Such is the fatal though absurd reasoning of men who are disposed to commit crimes.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

If it be objected, that almost all nations in all ages have punished certain crimes with death; I answer, that the force of these examples vanishes, when opposed to truth, against which prescription is urged in vain. The history of mankind is an immense sea of errors, in which a few obscure truths may here and there be found.

Crimes and Punishments, ch. xxviii.

As ten millions of circles can never make a square, so the united voice of myriads cannot lend the smallest foundation to falsehood.-It were to be wished then that, instead of cutting away wretches as useless, before we have tried their uti


lity, [and thus] converting correction into vengeance, it were to be wished that we tried the restrictive arts of government; and made the law the protector, and not the tyrant of the public. We should then find that creatures, whose souls are held as dross, only wanted the hand of a refiner; we should then find that wretches now stuck up for long tortures, lest luxury should feel a momentary pang, might, if properly treated, serve to sinew the state in times of danger; that, as their faces are like ours, their hearts are so too; that few minds are so base as that perseverance cannot amend; that a man may see his last crime without dying for it; and that very little blood will serve to cement our security.


Vicar of Wakefield, ch. xxvii:

THE punishment of criminals should be of use; when a man is hanged he is good for nothing.


Philosoph. Dict. Art. Civil Laws. PENAL laws pressed are a shower of snares upon the people.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]


LORD BACON, Works, vol. iii. p. 377.


[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

THERE are two capital faults in our law with relation to civil debts. One is, that every man is presumed solvent. A presumption, in innumerable cases, directly against the truth. Therefore the debtor is ordered, on a supposition of ability and fraud, to be coerced his liberty until he makes payment. By this means, in all cases of civil insolvency, without a pardon from his creditor, he is to be imprisoned for life :-and thus a miserable mistaken invention of artificial science, operates to change a civil into a criminal judgment, and to scourge misfortune or indiscretion with a punishment which the law does not inflict on the greatest crimes.

The next fault is, that the inflicting of that punishment is not on the opinion of an equal and public judge; but is referred to the arbitrary discretion of a private, nay interested, and irritated individual. He, who formally is, and substantially ought to be, the judge, is in reality no more than ministerial, a mere executive instrument of a private man, who is at once judge and party. Every idea of judicial order is subverted


by this procedure. If the insolvency be no crime, why is it punished with arbitrary imprisonment? If it be a crime, why is it delivered into private hands to pardon without discretion, or to punish without mercy and without measure?

I know that credit must be preserved; but equity must be preserved too; and it is impossible that any thing should be necessary to commerce, which is inconsistent with justice. The operation of the old law is so savage and so inconvenient to society, that for a long time past, once in every parliament, and lately twice, the legislature has been obliged to make a general arbitrary jail-delivery, and at once to set open, by its sovereign authority, all the prisons in England.

I never relished acts of grace; nor ever submitted to them but from despair of better. They are a dishonourable invention, by which, not from humanity, not from policy; but merely because we have not room enough to hold these victims of the absurdity of our laws, we turn loose upon the public three or four thousand miserable wretches, corrupted by the habits, debased by the ignominy of a prison. If the creditor had a right to those carcases as a natural security, I am sure we have no right to deprive him of that security. But if the few pounds of flesh were not necessary to his security, we had not a right to detain the unfortunate debtor, without any benefit at all to the person who confined him-Take it as you will, we commmit injustice. Credit has little or no concern in this cruelty, I speak in a commercial assembly.


K 4

[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »