Abbildungen der Seite


to wear a doliman, and at Paris a coat.

If all human laws are by compact, said I, the only point is to make good bargains. The citizens of Delli and Agra say, that they made a very bad agreement with Tamerlane. The citizens of London, again, value themselves for the good bargain they made with King William III. One of that opulent body was saying to me, It is necessity which makes laws, and force causes them to be observed. I asked him whether force did not likewise make laws, and whether William the Conqueror. had not prescribed to England lars without any previous convention ? “ Yes," said he, “ we were « then oxen, and William put a yoke upon us, “ and goaded us along. Since those times we are $c becoine men, but with our horns still remain"sing, we are sure to gore any one that will make “ us plough for him and rot for ourselves.”

Full of these reflections, I was pleased to find, that there is a natural law independent of all human conventions : that the fruit of my labour should be my own; that I have no right to my neighbour's life, nor my neighbour to mine, &c. But when it came into my mind, that, from Chedolaomer down to Mentzel, colonel of hussars, it has been customary to shew one's loyalty by effusion of human blood, and to pillage one's neighbour by patent, I was touched to the heart.

I am told that robbers had their laws, and that war has also its laws. On my asking what were those laws of war?

war? I was answered, It is to hang up a prisoner, if one of your men has been hanged


by the enemy. It is to burn and destroy those villages which have not brought in their whole subsistence at the day appointed by the gracious sovereign of the neighbourhood. So that is the spirit of laws, said I.

By farther information I heard of some very wise laws condemning a shepherd to the galleys for nine years, for giving a little foreign salt to his sheep. A neighbour of mine had been ruined by an indictment for cutting down two oaks in his own wood, not observing a formality which he had not been able to know any thing of: his wife died of grief in extreme distress, and his son lives, if it may be so called, in wretchedness. I own that these laws are just, though the execution of them is a little too hard : but I cannot bear those laws which authorise a hundred thousand men to go, under the pretence of loyalty, and massacre as many of their peaceable neighbours. The generality of men appear to be naturally endowed with sense enough to make laws, but then it is not every one who has virtue sufficient to enact good


Should Tamerlane come and subdue India, you will see nothing but arbitrary laws. One shall squeeze a province to enrich a publican of Tamerlane's; another shall make it high treason, only for having dropped a free word concerning the mistress of the raja's first valet de chambre; a third shall take away from the farmer half his harvest, and dispute the remainder with him; and what is worse than all this, there shall be laws by which a


Tartar messenger shall come and take away your children in the cradle, make them soldiers or eunuchs, according to their constitutions, and leave the father and mother to wipe away each other's tears.

Now whether is it best, to be Tamerlane's dog or his subject ? Doubtless his dog has by much the best of it.

VOLTAIRE. Pbilo.opb. Dict. Art. Laws.

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




AMONG the pamphlets you lately sent me, was one, entitled, Thoughts on Executive Justice. In return for that, I send you a French one on the same subject. They are both addressed to the judges, but written, as you will see, in a very different spirit. The English author is for hanging all thieves; the French is for proportioning punishments to offences.

If we really believe, as we profess to believe, that the law of Moses was the law of God, the dictate of divine wisdom, infinitely superior to human, on what principles do we ordain death as the punishment of an offence, which, according to that law, was only to be punished by a restitution of four-fold? To put a man to death for an offence which does not deserve death, is it not a murder ? And, as the French writer says, Doit-on punir un delit contre la société par un delit contre nature ? *

Superfluous property is the creature of society. Simple and mild laws were sufficient to guard the property that was merely necessary. The savage's bow, his hatchet, and his coat of skins, were sufficiently secured, without law, by the fear of personal resentment and retaliation. When, by virtue of the first laws, part of the society accumulated wealth and grew powerful, they enacted others more severe, and would protect their property at the expence of humanity. This was abusing their power, and commencing a tyranny. If a savage, before he entered into society, had been told—“ Your neighbour by this


• Ought a crime against society to be punished by a crime against nature?

means may become owner of an hundred deer; 66 but if your brother, or your son, or yourself, “ having no deer of your own, and being hungry, « should kill one, an infamous death must be the

consequence :” he would probably have preferred his liberty, and his common right of killing any deer, to all the advantages of society that might be proposed to him.

That it is better a hundred guilty persons should escape, than that one innocent person should suffer, is a maxim that has been long and generally approved ; never, that I know of, controverted. Even the sanguinary author of the Thoughts agrees to it, adding well, “ that the very thought of

injured innocence, and much more that of suf

fering innocence, must awaken all our tenderest « and most compassionate feelings, and at the

same time raise our highest indignation against “ the instruments of it. But,” he adds, " there, " is no danger of either from a strict adherence to so the laws,”-Really!- Is it then impossible to


[ocr errors]
« ZurückWeiter »