Imágenes de páginas

not any at all in the kind of duty, would lead pretty generally to a separate practical decision for the several cases. In the last of the two, whatever might be the pain to a person's feelings, he would feel himself to have no discretion or choice left. Reveal

he must not only, if otherwise revealed, he must come forward as a witness, but, if not revealed, he must denounce he must lodge an information, and that instantly, else even in law, without question of morality, he makes himself a party to the crime -an accomplice after the act. That

single consideration would with most men at once cut short all deliberation. And yet even in such a situation there is a possible variety of the case that might alter its complexion. If the crime had been committed many years before, and under circumstances which precluded all fear that the same temptation or the same provocation should arise again, most reflecting people would think it the better course to leave the criminal to his conscience. Often in such denunciations it is cer tain that human impertinence, and the spirit which sustains the habit of gossip, and mere incontinence of secrets, and vulgar craving for being the author of a sensation, have far more often led to the publication of the offence, than any concern for the interests of morality.

On the other hand, with respect to the slighter extreme-viz. in a case where the offence is entirely created by the law, with no natural turpitude about it, and besides (which is a strong argument in the case) enjoying no special facilities of escaping justiceno man in the circumstances supposed would have a reason for hesitating. The laws of hospitality are of everlasting obligation: they are equally binding on the host and on the guest. Coming under a man's roof for one moment, in the clear character of guest, creates an absolute sanctity in the consequent relations which connect the parties. That is the popular feeling. The king in the old ballads is always represented as feeling that it would be damnable to make a legal offence out of his own venison which he had eaten as a guest. There is a cleaving pollution, like that of the Syrian leprosy, in the act of abusing your privileges as a guest, or in any way profiting by your opportunities

as a guest, to the injury of your confiding host. Henry VII., though a prince, was no gentleman; and in the famous case of his dining with Lord Oxford, and saying at his departure, with reference to an infraction of his recent statute, "My Lord, I thank you for my good cheer, but my Attorney must speak with you;" Lord Oxford might have justly retorted, "If he does, then posterity will speak pretty plainly with your Majesty ; for it was in the character of Lord Oxford's guest that he had learned the infraction of his law. Mean time the general rule, and the rationale of the rule, in such cases, appears to be this: whenever there is, or can be imagined a sanctity in the obligations on one side, and only a benefit of expediency in the obligations upon the other, the latter must give way. For the detection of smuggling, (the particular offence supposed in the case stated,) society has an express and separate machinery maintained. If their activity droops, that is the business of government. In such a case, government is entitled to no aid from private citizens: on the express understanding that no aid must be expected, has so expensive an establishment been submitted to. Each individual refuses to participate in exposure of such offences, for the same reason that he refuses to keep the street clean even before his own door he has already paid for having such work discharged by proxy.

CASE III.-Giving Characters to Servants who have misconducted themselves.

No case so constantly arises to perplex the conscience in private life as this-which in principle is almost beyond solution. Sometimes, indeed, the coarse realities of law step in to cut that Gordian knot which no man can untie for it is an actionable offence to give a character wilfully false.

That little fact at once exor cises all aërial phantoms of the conscience. True: but this coarse machinery applies only to those cases in which the servant has been guilty in a way amenable to law. In any case short of that, no plaintiff would choose to face the risks of an action; nor could he sustain it: the defendant

would always have a sufficient resource in the vagueness and large latitude allowed to opinion when estimating the qualities of a servant. Almost universally, therefore, the case comes back to the forum of conscience. Now in that forum how stands the pleading? Too certainly, we will suppose, that the servant has not satisfied your reasonable expectations. This truth you would have no difficulty in decla ring: here, as much as any where else, you would feel it unworthy of your own integrity to equivocate-you open your writing-desk, and sit down to tell the mere truth in as few words as possible. But then steps in the consideration, that to do this without disguise or mitigation, is oftentimes to sign a warrant for the ruin of a fellowcreature-and that fellow-creature possibly penitent, in any case thrown upon your mercy. Who can stand this? In lower walks of life, it is true that mistresses often take servants without any certificates of character; but in higher grades this is notoriously uncommon, and in great cities dangerous. Besides, the candidate may happen to be a delicate girl, incapable of the hard labour incident to such a lower establishment. Here, then, is a case where conscience says into your left ear-Fiat justitia ruat cælum "Do your duty without looking to consequences." Mean time into the right ear conscience says, " But mark, in that case possibly you consign this poor girl to prostitution." Lord Nelson, as is well known, was once placed in a dilemma equally trying: * side, an iron tongue sang out from the commander-in-chief-retreat; on the other, his own oracular heart sang to him -advance. How he decided is well known; and the words in which he proclaimed his decision ought to be emblazoned for ever as the noblest of all recorded repartees. Waving his hand towards the Admiral's ship, he said to his own officers, who reported the signal of recall" You may see it; I cannot you know I am blind on that side." Õh, venerable blindness! immortal blindness! None so deaf as

on one

those who will not hear: none so gloriously blind. as those who will not see any danger or difficulty-who have a dark eye on that side, whilst they reserve another blazing like a meteor for honour and their country's interest. Most of us, we presume, in the case stated about the servant, hear but the whispering voice of conscience as regards the truth, and her thundering voice as regards the poor girl's interest. In doing this, however, we (and doubtless others) usually attempt to compromise the opposite suggestions of conscience by some such jesuitical device as this. We dwell pointedly upon those good qualities which the servant really possesses, and evade speaking of any others. But how, if minute, searching, and circumstantial enquiries are made by way of letter? In that case, we affect to have noticed only such as we can answer with success, passing the dangerous ones as so many rocks, sub silentio. All this is not quite right, you think, reader. Why, no: so think we: but what alternative is allowed? "Say, ye severest, what would ye have done?" In very truth, this is a dilemma for which Casuistry is not a match; unless, indeed, Casuistry as armed and equipped in the school of Ignatius Loyola. But that is with us reputed a piratical Casuistry. The whole estate of a servant lies in his capacity of serving; and often, if you tell the truth, by one word you ruin this estate for ever. Mean time, a case very much of the same quality, and of even greater difficulty, is

CASE IV. Criminal Prosecution of Fraudulent Servants.

Any reader, who is not deeply read in the economy of English life, will have a most inadequate notion of the vast extent to which this case occurs. We are well assured, (for our information comes from quarters judicially conversant with the question,) that in no other channel of human life does there flow one-hundredth part of the

* "Once placed in a dilemma :" viz.—On the first expedition against Copenhagen, (in 1801.) He was unfortunately second in command; his principal, a brave man in person, wanted moral courage-he could not face responsibility in a trying shape. And had he not been blessed with a disobedient second in command, he must have returned home re infectâ.

forbearance and the lenity which are called into action by the relation between injured masters and their servants. We are informed that, were every third charge pursued effectually, half the courts in Europe would not suffice for the cases of criminality which emerge in London alone under this head. All England would, in the course of five revolving years, have passed under the torture of subpæna, as witnesses for the prosecution or the defence. This multiplication of cases arises from the coincidence of hourly opportunity with hourly temptation, both carried to the extreme verge of possibility, and generally falling in with youth in the offenders. These aggravations of the danger are three several palliations of the crime, and they have weight allowed to them by the indulgent feelings of masters in a corresponding degree; not one case out of six score that are discovered (while, perhaps, another six score go undiscovered) being ever prosecuted with rigour and effect.

In this universal laxity of temper lies an injury too serious to public morals; and the crime reproduces itself abundantly under an indulgence so Christian in its motive, but unfortunately operating with the full effect of genial culture. Masters, who have made themselves notorious by indiscriminate forgiveness, might be represented symbolically as gardeners watering and tending luxuriant crops of crime in hot-beds or forcing houses. In London, many are the tradesmen who, being reflective as well as benevolent, perceive that something is amiss in the whole sys. tem. In part the law has been to blame, stimulating false mercy by punishment disproportioned to the offence. But many a judicious master has seen cause to suspect his own lenity as more mischievously operative even than the law's hardness, and as an effeminate surrender to luxurious sensibilities. Those have not been the severest masters whose names are attached to fatal prosecutions: on the contrary, three out of four having been persons who looked

forward to general consequences having, therefore, been more than usually thoughtful, were, for that reason, likely to be more than usually humane. They did not suffer the less acutely, because their feelings ran counter to the course of what they believed to be their duty. Prosecutors often sleep with less tranquillity during the progress of a judicial proceeding than the objects of the prosecution. An English judge of the last century, celebrated for his uprightness, used to balance against that pity so much vaunted for the criminal, the duty of "a pity to the country." But private prosecutors of their own servants, often feel both modes of pity at the same moment.

For this difficulty a book of Casuistry might suggest a variety of resources, not so much adapted to a case of that nature already existing, as to the prevention of future cases. Every mode of trust or delegated duty would suggest its own separate improvements; but all improvements must fall under two genuine heads-first, the diminution of temptation, either by abridging the amount of trust reposed; or, where that is difficult, by shortening its duration, and multiplying the counterchecks: secondly, by the moderation of the punishment in the event of detection, as the sole means of reconciling the public conscience to the law, and diminishing the chances of impunity. There is a memorable proof of the rash extent to which the London tradesmen, at one time, carried their confidence in servants. So many clerks, or apprentices, were allowed to hold large balances of money in their hands through the intervals of their periodical settlings, that during the Parliamentary war multitudes were tempted, by that single cause, into absconding. They had always a refuge in the camps. And the loss sustained in this way was so heavy, when all payments were made in gold, that to this one evil suddenly assuming a shape of excess, is ascribed, by some writers, the first establishment of goldsmiths as bankers.*

Two other weighty considerations

* “ First establishment of goldsmiths as bankers." Goldsmiths certainly acted in that capacity from an earlier period. But from this era, until the formation of the Bank of England in 1696, they entered more fully upon the functions of bankers, issuing notes which passed current in London.

attach to this head-1. The known fact that large breaches of trust, and embezzlements, are greatly on the increase, and have been since the memo rable case of Mr Fauntleroy. America is, and will be for ages, a city of refuge for this form of guilt. 2. That the great training of the conscience in all which regards pecuniary justice and fidelity to engagements, lies through the discipline and tyrocinium of the humbler ministerial offices-those of clerks, book-keepers, apprentices. The law acts through these offices, for the unconfirmed conscience, as leading-strings to an infant in its earliest efforts at walking. It forces to go right, until the choice may be supposed trained and fully developed. That is the great function of the law: a function which it will perform with more or less success, as it is more or less fitted to win the cordial support of masters.


Here is a special" title," (to speak with the civil lawyers,) under that general claim put in for England with respect to a moral pre-eminence amongst the nations. Many are they who, in regions widely apart, have noticed with honour the English superiority in the article of veneration for truth. Not many years ago, two Englishmen, on their road overland to India, fell in with a royal cortége, and soon after with the prime minister and the crown prince of Persia. The prince honoured them with an interview; both parties being on horseback, and the conversation therefore reduced to the points of nearest interest. Amongst these was the English character. Upon this the prince's remark was that what had most impressed him with respect for England and her institutions was, the remarkable spirit of truth-speaking which distinguished her sons; as supposing her institutions to grow out of her sons, and her sons out of her institutions. And indeed well he might have this feeling by comparison with his own countrymen: Persians have no principles apparently on this point-all is impulse and accident of feeling. Thus the journal of the two Persian princes in London, as lately reported in the newspapers, is one tissue of falsehoods: not, most un

doubtedly, from any purpose of deceiving, but from the overmastering habit (cherished by their whole training and experience) of repeating every thing in a spirit of amplification, with a view to the wonder only of the hearer. The Persians are notoriously the Frenchmen of the East: the same gaiety, the same levity, the same want of depth both as to feeling and principle. The Turks are much nearer to the English: the same gravity of temperament, the same meditativeness, the same sternness of principle. Of all European nations, the French is that which least regards truth. The whole spirit of their private memoirs and their anecdotes illustrates this. To point an anecdote or a repartee, there is no extravagance of falsehood that the French will not endure. What nation but the French would have tolerated that monstrous fiction about La Fontaine, by way of illustrating his supposed absence of mind-viz. that, on meeting his own son in a friend's house, he expressed his admiration of the young man, and begged to know his name. The fact probably may have been that La Fontaine was not liable to any absence at all: apparently this "distraction" was assumed as a means of making a poor sort of sport for his friends. Like many another man in such circumstances, he saw and entered into the fun which his own imaginary forgetfulness produced. But were it otherwise, who can believe so outrageous a self-forgetfulness as that which would darken his eyes to the very pictures of his own hearth? Were such a thing possible, were it even real, it would still be liable to the just objection of the critics -that, being marvellous in appearance, even as a fact it ought not to be brought forward for any purpose of wit, but only as a truth of physiology, or as a fact in the records of a sur

geon. The "incredulus odi" is too strong in such cases, and it adheres to three out of every four French anecdotes. The French taste is, indeed, any thing but good in all that department of wit and humour. And the ground lies in their national want of veracity. To return to Englandand having cited an Oriental witness to the English character on this point, let us now cite a most observing one in the West. Kant, in Königsberg, was surrounded by Englishmen and

by foreigners of all nations-foreign and English students, foreign and English merchants; and he pronounced the main characteristic feature of the English as a nation to lie in their severe reverence for truth. This from him was no slight praise; for such was the stress he laid upon veracity, that upon this one quality he planted the whole edifice of moral excellence. General integrity could not exist, he held, without veracity as its basis; nor that basis exist with out superinducing general integrity.

This opinion, perhaps, many beside Kant will see cause to approve. For ourselves we can truly say never did we know a human being, boy or girl, who began life as an habitual undervaluer of truth, that did not afterwards exhibit a character conformable to that beginning—such a character as, however superficially correct under the steadying hand of self-interest, was not in a lower key of moral feeling as well as of principle.

But out of this honourable regard to veracity in Immanuel Kant, branched out a principle in Casuistry which most people will pronounce monstrous. It has occasioned much disputing backwards and forwards. But as a practical principle of conduct, (for which Kant meant it,) inevitably it must be rejected-if for no other reason, because it is at open war with the laws and jurisprudence of all Christian Europe. Kant's doctrine was this; and the illustrative case in which it is involved, let it be remembered, is his own:- -So sacred a thing, said he, is truth-that if a murderer, pursuing another with an avowed purpose of killing him, were to ask of a third person by what road the fleeing party had fled, that person is bound to give him true information. And you are at liberty to suppose this third person a wife, a daughter, or under any conceivable obligations of love and duty to the fugitive. Now, this is monstrous and Kant himself, with all his parental fondness for the doctrine, would certainly have been recalled to sounder thoughts by these two considerations


1st, That, by all the codes of law received throughout Europe, he who acted upon Kant's principle would be held a particeps criminis-an accomplice before the fact.

2d, That, in reality, a just prin

ciple is lurking under Kant's error; but a principle translated from its proper ground. Not truth, individual or personal-not truth of mere facts, but truth doctrinal-the truth which teaches, the truth which changes men and nations-this is the truth concerned in Kant's meaning, had he explained his own meaning to himself more distinctly. With respect to that truth, wheresoever it lies, Kant's doctrine applies-that all men have a right to it; that perhaps you have no right to suppose of any race or nation that it is not prepared to receive it; and, at any rate, that no circumstances of expedience can justify you in keeping it back.

VI.-The Case of Charles I.

Many cases arise from the life and political difficulties of Charles I. But there is one so peculiarly pertinent to an essay which entertains the general question of Casuistry-its legitimacy, its value-that with this, although not properly a domestic case, or only such in a mixed sense, we shall conclude.

No person has been so much attacked for his scruples of conscience as this prince; and, what seems odd enough, no person has been so much attacked for resorting to books of Casuistry, and for encouraging literary men to write books of Casuistry. Under his suggestion and sanction, Saunderson wrote his book on the obligation of an oath, (for which there was surely reason enough in days when the democratic tribunals were forcing men to swear to an et cætera ;) and, by an impulse originally derived from him, Jeremy Taylor wrote afterwards his Ductor Dubitantium, Bishop Barlow wrote his Cases of Conscience, &c. &c.

For this dedication of his studies, Charles has been plentifully blamed in after times. He was seeking evasions for plain duties, say his enemies. He was arming himself for intrigue in the school of Machiavel. But now turn to his history, and ask in what way any man could have extricated himself from that labyrinth which invested his path but by Casuistry. Cases the most difficult are offered for his decision: peace for a distracted nation in 1647, on terms which seemed fatal to the monarchy; peace for the

« AnteriorContinuar »