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suffered the leaders to proceed, until very many, as it were, by the contagion of a sort of fashion, were carried to these excesses) might make these people think, that there was something in the case, which induced government to wink at the irregularity of the proceedings.
The conduct and condition of the lord mayor ought, in my opinion, to be considered. His answers to Lord Beauchamp, to Mr. Malo, and to Mr. Langdale, make him appear rather an accomplice in the crimes, than guilty of negligence as a magistrate. Such an example set to the mob by the first magistrate of the city tends greatly to palliate their offence.
The license, and complete impunity too, of the publications, which from the beginning instigated the people to such actions, and, in the midst of trials and executions, still continue, does in a great degree render these creatures an object of compassion. In the Public Advertiser of this morning, there are two or three paragraphs strongly recommending such outrages ; and stimulating the people to violence against the houses and persons of Roman Catholics, and even against the chapels of the foreign ministers.
I would not go so far as to adopt the maxim, quicquid multis peccatur, inultum ; but certainly offences, committed by vast multitudes, are somewhat palliated in the individuals ; who, when so many escape, are always looked upon rather as unlucky than criminal. All our loose ideas of justice, as it affects any individual, have in them something of comparison to the situation of others; and no systematic reasoning can wholly free us from such impressions.
Phil. de Comines says, our English civil wars were
less destructive than others; because the cry of the conqueror always was, “Spare the common people.” This principle of war should be at least as prevalent in the execution of justice. The appetite of justice is easily satisfied, and it is best nourished with the least possible blood. We may too recollect, that between capital punishment and total impunity there are many stages.
On the whole, every circumstance of mercy, and of comparative justice, does, in my opinion, plead in favour of such low, untaught, or ill-taught wretches. But, above all, the policy of government is deeply interested, that the punishments should appear one solemn and deliberate act, aimed not at random, and at particular offences, but done with a relation to the general spirit of the tumults; and they ought to be nothing more than what is sufficient to mark and discountenance that spirit.
CIRCUMSTANCES FOR MERCY.
Not being principal.
We do not draw the moral lessons we might from history. On the contrary, without care it may be used to vitiate our minds and to destroy our happiness. In history a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind. It may,
in the perversion, serve for a magazine, furnishing offensive and defensive weapons for parties in church and state, and supplying the means of keeping alive or reviving, dissensions and animosities, and adding fuel to civil fury. History consists, for the greater part, of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites, which shake the public with the same
_“ troublous storms that toss
These vices are the causes of those storms. Religion, morals, laws, prerogatives, privileges, liberties, rights of men, are the pretexts. The pretexts are always found in some specious appearance of a real good. You would not secure men from tyranny and sedition, by rooting out of the mind the principles to which these fraudulent pretexts apply? If you did, you would root out everything that is valuable in the human breast. As these are the pretexts, so the ordinary actors and instruments in great public evils are kings, priests, magistrates, senates, parliaments, national assemblies, judges, and captains. You would not cure the evil by resolving, that there should be no more monarchs, nor ministers of state, nor of the gospel; no interpreters of law; no general officers; no public councils. You might change the
The things in some shape must remain. A certain quantum of power must always exist in the community, in some hands, and under some appellation. Wise men will apply their remedies to vices, not to names; to the causes of evil which are permanent, not to the occasional organs by which they act, and
the transitory modes in which they appear. Otherwise you will be wise historically, a fool in practice. Seldom have two ages the same fashion in their pretexts and the same modes of mischief. Wickedness is a little more inventive.
are discussing fashion, the fashion is gone by. The very same vice assumes a new body. The spirit transmigrates; and, far from losing its principle of life by the change of its appearance, it is renovated in its new organs with the fresh vigour of a juvenile activity. It walks abroad, it continues its ravages, whilst you are gibbeting the carcase, or demolishing the tomb. You are terrifying yourselves with ghosts and apparitions, whilst your house is the haunt of robbers. It is thus with all those, who, attending only to the shell and husk of history, think they are waging war with intolerance, pride, and cruelty, whilst, under colour of abhorring the ill principles of antiquated parties, they are authorizing and feeding the same odious vices in different factions, and perhaps in worse.-Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Not that I derogate from the use of history. It is a great improver of the understanding, by showing both men and affairs in a great variety of views. From this source much political wisdom may be learned; that is, may be learned as habit, not as precept; and as an exercise to strengthen the mind, as furnishing materials to enlarge and enrich it, not as a repertory of cases and precedents for a lawyer; if it were, a thousand times better would it be that a statesman had never learned to read—vellem nescirent literas. This method turns their understanding from the object before them, and from the present exigen
cies of the world, to comparisons with former times, of which, after all, we can know very little and very imperfectly; and our guides, the historians, who are to give us their true interpretation, are often prejudiced, often ignorant, often fonder of system than of truth. Whereas if a man with reasonably good parts and natural sagacity, and not in the leadingstrings of any master, will look steadily on the business before him, without being diverted by retrospect and comparison, he may be capable of forming a reasonably good judgment of what is to be done. There are some fundamental points in which nature never changes—but they are few and obvious, and belong rather to morals than to politics. But so far as regards political matter, the human mind and human affairs are susceptible of infinite modifications, and of combinations wholly new and unlooked for.Remarks on the Policy of the Allies. 1793.
MISAPPLICATION OF THE TERM “HONOURABLE.” The Chancellor of France at the opening of the states, said, in a tone of oratorical flourish, that all occupations were honourable. If he meant only, that no honest employment was disgraceful, he would not have gone beyond the truth. But in asserting, that anything is honourable, we imply some distinction in its favour. The occupation of a hair-dresser, or of a working tallow-chandler, cannot be a matter of honour to any person—to say nothing of a number of other more servile employments. Such descriptions of men ought not to suffer oppression from the state; but the state suffers oppression, if such as they, either individually or collectively, are permitted