Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

on which the attorney-general prays sentence upon my client, God have mercy upon us! Instead of standing before him in judgment with the hopes and consolations of Christians, we must call upon the mountains to cover us; for which of us can present, for omniscient examination, a pure, unspotted, and faultless course? But I humbly expect that the benevolent Author of our being will judge us as I have been pointing out for your example. Holding up the great volume of our lives in his hands, and regarding the general scope of them, if he discovers benevolence, charity, and good-will to man beating in the heart, where he alone can look-if he finds that our conduct, though often forced out of the path by our infirmities, has been in general well directed, his all-searching eye will assuredly never pursue us into those little corners of our lives, much less will his justice select them for punishment, without the general context of our existence, by which faults may be sometimes found to have grown out of virtues, and very many of our heaviest offences to have been grafted by human imperfection upon the best and kindest of our affections. No, gentlemen, believe me, this is not the course of divine justice, or there is no truth in the gospel of Heaven. If the general tenor of a man's conduct be such as I have represented it, he may walk through the shadow of death, with all his faults about him, with as much cheerfulness as in the common paths of life, because he knows that, instead of a stern accuser to expose before the Author of his nature those frail passages, which, like the scored matter in the book before you, checkers the volume of the brightest and best spent life, his mercy will obscure them from the eye of his purity, and our repentance blot them out for ever.

367. FROM AIS SPEECH ON THE TRIAL OF THOMAS HARDY.

Gentlemen, my whole argument then amounts to no more than this, that before the crime of compassing THE KING'S DEATH can be found by you, the Jury, whose province it is to judge of its existence, it must be believed by you to have existed in point of fact. Before you can adjudge A FACT, you must believe it—not suspect it, or imagine it, or fancy it,-BUT BELIEVE IT-and it is impossible to impress the human mind with such a reasonable and certain belief, as is necessary to be impressed, before a Christian man can adjudge his neighbour to the smallest penalty, much less to the pains of death, without having such evidence as a reasonable mind will accept of, as the infallible test of truth. And what is that evidence ? Neither more nor less than that which the constitution has established in the Courts for the general administration of justice ; namely, that the evidence convinces the Jury, beyond all reasonable

doubt, that the criminal intention, constituting the crime, existed in the mind of the "man upon trial, and was the main spring of his conduct. The rules of evidence, as they are settled by law, and adopted in its general administration, are not to be overruled or tampered with. They are founded in the charities of religion-in the philosophy of nature-in the truths of history, and in the experience of common life; and whoever ventures rashly to depart from them, let him remember that it will be meted to him in the same measure, and that both God and man will judge him accordingly. These are arguments addressed to your reasons and consciences, not to be shaken in upright minds by any precedent, for no precedents can sanctify injustice ;—if they could, every human right would long ago have been extinct upon the earth. If the State Trials in bad times are to be searched for precedents, what murders may you not commit;—what law of humanity may you not trample upon ;-what rule of justice may you not violate ;—and what maxim of wise policy may you not abrogate and confound ? If precedents in bad times are to be implicitly followed, why should we have heard

any evidence at all ? You might have convicted without any evidence, for many have been so convicted, and in this manner murdered, even by acts of Parliament. If precedents in bad times are to be followed, why should the Lords and Commons have investigated these charges, and the Crown have put them into this course of judicial trial ?-since, without such a trial, and even after an acquittal upon one,—they might have attainted all the prisoners by act of Parliament;—they did so in the case of Lord Strafford. There are precedents, therefore, for all such things ;— but such precedents as could not for a moment survive the times of madness and distraction, which gave them birth, but which, as soon as the spurs of the occasions were blunted, were repealed, and execrated even by Parliaments which (little as I may think of the present) ought not to be compared with it: Parliaments sitting in the darkness of former times,-in the night of freedom,-before the principles of government were developed, and before the constitution became fixed. The last of these precedents, and all the proceedings upon it, were ordered to be taken off the file and burnt, to the intent that the same might no longer be visible in after-ages : an order dictated, no doubt, by a pious tenderness for national honour, and meant as a charitable covering for the crimes of our fathers. But it was a sin against posterity; it was a treason against society,-for, instead of commanding them to be burnt, they should rather have directed them to be blazoned in large letters upon the walls of our Courts of Justice, that, like the characters decyphered by the prophet of God, to the Eastern tyrant, they might enlarge and blacken in your sights, to terrify you from acts of injustice.

In times, when the whole habitable earth is in a state of change and fluctuation,—when deserts are starting up into civilized empires around you,—and when men, no longer slaves to the prejudices of particular countries, much less to the abuses of particular governments, enlist themselves, like the citizens of an enlightened world, into whatever communities their civil liberties may be best protected; it never can be for the advantage of this country to prove, that the strict, unextended letter of her laws, is no security to its inhabitants. On the contrary, when so dangerous a lure is everywhere holding out to emigration, it will be found to be the wisest policy of Great Britain to set up her happy constitution,--the strict letter of her guardian laws, and the proud condition of equal freedom, which her highest and her lowest subjects ought equally to enjoy ;it will be her wisest policy to set up these first of human blessings against those charms of change and novelty which the varying condition of the world is hourly displaying, and which may deeply affect the population and prosperity of our country. In times, when the subordination to authority is said to be everywhere but too little felt, it will be found to be the wisest policy of Great Britain, to instil into the governed an almost superstitious reverence for the strict security of the laws; which, from their equality of principle, beget no jealousies or discontent;—which, from their equal administration, can seldom work injustice ; and which, from the reverence growing out of their mildness and antiquity, acquire a stability in the habits and affections of men, far beyond the force of civil obligation :—whereas severe penalties, and arbitrary constructions of laws intended for security, lay the foundations of alienation from every human government, and have been the cause of all the calamities that have come, and are coming upon the earth.

mons.

George Canning. 1770-1827. 368. FROM HIS SPEECH ON PARLIAMENTARY REFORM. Dreading therefore the danger of total, and seeing the difficulties as well as the unprofitableness of partial alteration, I object to this first step towards a change in the constitution of the House of Com

There are wild theories abroad. I am not disposed to impute an ill motive to any man who entertains them. I will believe such a man to be as sincere in his conviction of the possibility of realising his notions of change without risking the tranquillity of the country, as I am sincere in my belief of their impracticability, and of the tremendous danger of attempting to carry them into effect; but for the sake of the world as well as for our own safety, let us be cautious and firm. Other nations, excited by the example of the liberty

[ocr errors]

which this country has long possessed, have attempted to copy our constitution ; and some of them have shot beyond it in the fierceness of their pursuit. I grudge not to other nations that share of liberty which they may acquire : in the name of God, let them enjoy it! But let us warn them that they lose not the object of their desire by the very eagerness with which they attempt to grasp it. Inheritors and conservators of rational freedom, let us, while others are seeking it in restlessness and trouble, be a steady and shining light to guide their course, not a wandering meteor to bewilder and mislead them.

Let it not be thought that this is an unfriendly or disheartening counsel to those who are either struggling under the pressure of harsh government, or exulting in the novelty of sudden emancipation. It is addressed much rather to those who, though cradled and educated amidst the sober blessings of the British Constitution, pant for other schemes of liberty than those which that Constitution sanctions—other than are compatible with a just equality of civil rights, or with the necessary restraints of social obligation ;

of some of whom it may be said, in the language which Dryden puts into the mouth of one of the most extravagant of his heroes, that,

• They would be free as nature first made man,
Ere the base laws of servitude began,

When wild in woods the noble savage ran. Noble and swelling sentiments !—but such as cannot be reduced into practice. Grand ideas !—but which must be qualified and adjusted by a compromise between the aspirings of individuals and a due concern for the general tranquillity ;-must be subdued and chastened by reason and experience, before they can be directed to any useful end ! A search after abstract perfection in government may produce, in generous minds, an enterprise and enthusiasm to be recorded by the historian, and to be celebrated by the poet : but such perfection is not an object of reasonable pursuit, because it is not one of possible attainment: and never yet did a passionate struggle after an absolutely unattainable object fail to be productive of misery to an individual—of madness and confusion to a people. As the inhabitants of those burning climates which lie beneath a tropical sun, sigh for the coolness of the mountain and the grove; so (all history instructs us) do nations which have basked for a time in the torrent blaze of an unmitigated liberty, too often call upon the shades of despotism, even of military despotism, to cover them

"O quis me gelidis in vallibus Hæmi

Sistat, et ingenti ramorum protegat umbrâ !” -a protection which blights while it shelters ; which dwarfs the intellect, and stunts the energies of man, but to which a wearied nation willingly resorts from intolerable heats, and from perpetual danger of convulsion.

Our lot is happily cast in the temperate zone of freedom : the clime best suited to the development of the moral qualities of the human race; to the cultivation of their faculties, and to the security as well as the improvement of their virtues :—a clime not exempt indeed from variations of the elements, but variations which purify while they agitate the atmosphere that we breathe. Let us be sensible of the advantages which it is our happiness to enjoy. Let us guard with pious gratitude the flame of genuine liberty, that fire from heaven, of which our Constitution is the holy depository ; and let us not, for the chance of rendering it more intense and more radiant, impair its purity or hazard its extinction !

The noble lord is entitled to the acknowledgments of the House for the candid, able, and ingenuous manner in which he has brought forward his motion. If in the remarks which I have made upon it there has been any thing which has borne the appearance of disrespect towards him, I hope he will acquit me of having so intended it. That the noble lord will carry his motion this evening, I have no fear ; but with the talents which he has shown himself to possess, and with (I sincerely hope) a long and brilliant career of parliamentary distinction before him, he will no doubt renew his efforts hereafter. Although I presume not to expect that he will give any weight to observations or warnings of mine, yet on this, probably the last, opportunity which I shall have, of raising my voice on the question of Parliamentary Reform, while I conjure the House to pause before it consents to adopt the proposition of the noble lord, I cannot help conjuring the noble lord himself, to pause before he again presses

it

upon the country. If, however, he shall persevere, and if his perseverance shall be successful—and if the results of, that success shall be such as I cannot help apprehending—his be the triumph to have precipitated those results—be mine the consolation that to the utmost, and the latest of my power, I have opposed them.

THE

369. SPEECH AT PLYMOUTH IN THE YEAR 1823, UPON

OCCASION OF BEING PRESENTED WITH THE FREEDOM OF

THAT Town. MR. MAYOR AND GENTLEMEN, -I accept with thankfulness, and with greater satisfaction than I can express, this flattering testimony of your good opinion and goodwill. I must add, that the value of the gift itself has been greatly enhanced by the manner in which your worthy and honourable Recorder has developed the motives which suggested it, and the sentiments which it is intended to convey.

Gentlemen, your Recorder has said very truly, that whoever, in

« ZurückWeiter »