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sition. For this, indeed, various causes may be assigned, and various excuses offered ; nor would it, perhaps, be right to impute to a man as a fault of importance, what probably arose in some nieasure from his personal infirmities; but when a man of genius pesters his contemporaries and equals with those bad tempers, which, in public at least, should be concealed, he lays himself fairly open to the lash of censure.
But peevishness of temper is not the only error imputable to Addison and Pope. Similar those great men were in many respects, and it appears, that they resembled each other in having given indications, not a few, of a disposition meanly avaricious. Of Addison we are told, among other things of a similar sort, that he was remarkably eager after the petty fees of a public office that he once held; and when upon some occasion he was rather pointedly reminded of his love of pelf, he made a very paltry and sophistical excuse for his griping practices. As it cannot, however, be supposed, that the remission of Addison's official fee could be of much consequence to any of his friends with whom he had business to transact, the rigid support of his strict right in this particular, is matter of reprehension only so far as it is evidence of his general character. But, when his rapacity for money led him to arrest Steele, his friend and coadjutor in letters, for a sum not very considerable, and which nothing but his necessities prevented Steele from paying, who can help despising the avarice that could dictate so mean and ungenerous an action? The stingy habits of paper-saving Pope,” are too well known to need enumeration, and afford a manifest, though lamentable proof, that, however the study of polite literature may be calculated to polish the manners and to humanize the mind, it is not competent to extinguish the love of wealth. But, surely, avarice is á vice far too sordid ever to be found in connection with genius. It is, indeed, no proof of shining abilities, as some have 'unhappily imagined, to be dissipated and extravagant; for never can genius more effectually uphold its real dignity, especially in one respect, than by observing economy at first, as Húme did, that he might at last maintain his independence. But, between avarice and prodigality there are many degrees,-amply sufficient, one should imagine, to accommodate the dispositions, either of the careful, on the one hand, or of the gay, on the other, without transgressing in the least the bounds of propriety.
Avarice, however, has been by no means a prevailing fault amongst men of genius; and therefore it is, that particular instances excite the greater attention: for, with respect to their pecuniary matters, they have much more generally
shewn a total disregard of every thing like economy or circumspection. While basking in the sunshine of prosperity, they are led on by the delusions of hope to imagine, that the winter of adversity will never come, and thus the distress which ordinary care might have easily averted, overwhelms them when they least expect it, and sweeps away in its resistless torrent, the enjoyments which they vainly thought would never have an end. Were the effect of such misfortunes confined to those by whose misconduct they have been produced, there would be much less occasion for general regret, as it might be justly considered, that improvidence was properly punished by its consequent calamities. But when we reflect, that, though men of genius have frequently been induced to write by the pressure of want, yet that they have still more frequently been compelled by the same inexorable tyrant to waste their invaluable time, and exhaust their noble powers, in the servile labours of compiling and translating; or, what perhaps is more to be lamented, that they have been urged to sacrifice their fame to their necessities, by sending forth their works to the public, though conscious of innumerable faults, which unembarrassed leisure would have enabled them to correct :-when these things are considered, we cannot but regard profusion and improvidence as among the most mischievous errors into which genius is apt to fall, whether as respects its own reputation, or the pleasure and advantage of society.
But while the pressing calls of indigence have sometimes compelled men of genius to sacrifice their future fame, others have incurred a similar loss by seeking temporary celebrity as their principal object, and writing more immediately with a view to please the fancy of the day. Thus we see in the Hudibras of Butler, and the poems of Peter Pindar, numerous and great as the excellencies are of both those writers, the most exquisite talents wasted (one might almost say) on productions, which, instead of increasing in fame as they increase in age, are, from their very nature, much more likely, as they float down the tide of time, to sink at last in the gulf of oblivion. It should, however, always be the ambition of genius to write for immortality. Milton could no doubt have obtained greater celebrity during his life-time than he did, had he thought the empty applause of the moment, an object worthy of his mighty powers; but his were nobler views, and the works which he has left will be the boast of his country, while there is another civilized nation upon earth to appreciate their merits. Let it then be the endeavour of kindred, though inferior genius, to emulate his sublime example, and not to dissipate in ephemeral productions those abilities which, properly exerted, would contribute to the delight and the benefit of posterity.
The misdirection of genius, however, can never be viewed with so much regret as when it indicates a want of principle. When this noble faculty becomes perverted to base ends, then, indeed, have we reason to blush, at the meanness of those who can so shamefully prostitute “the rarest boon of heaven." When, for example, we see a Bacon induced by the paltry love of place to plead bitterly against his kindest benefactor; when we see even a Milton himself, the avowed friend of liberty, serving, with all his heart and soul, the tyrant of his country; when we see such men as those who at once graced and disgraced the age of the second Charles, defiling their brilliant productions with the foulest impurity, and fawning with the utmost servility at the feet of a debauched and tyrannical hypocrite; when we see the contemptible prostitution of talent displayed by a Walpole, a Mansfield, and a Burke ; when we see
but it is time to stop the present age needs not a herald of its baseness. O Genius! if thy powers did but always harmonize with virtue, then, indeed, would they be justly honoured with the united love and admiration of mankind; but, let it never be forgotten, that, however sparkling, or however grand, when they descend to be the allies of meanness or of vice, like jewels upon a knave, they share the contempt bestowed on their possessor.
But it would be a task as endless as repulsive, to dwell upon all the various errors by which, in different instances, Genius has been deformed; for, independently of those frailties to which all men are exposed, they whose mental powers are superior to those of others, have, generally speaking, temptations to encounter peculiar to their extraordinary endowments, and by which their great advantages are in some degree counterbalanced. It is, indeed, not particularly wonderful, that he whose talents are uncommon, should have singularities of a different kind; but the misfortune is, that men of genius are too apt to act, as if they thought, that their follies and vices were all sanctified by the abilities they possess, or, at all events, that the merit of the latter was sufficiently great to obliterate all traces of the former from the recollection of mankind. The evil thus furnishes nourishment for itself, and increases in strength by the very means which ought to effect its destruction; for men of genius would surely endeavour with greater diligence to avoid the errors which they are liable to commit, did they but duly reflect, how much the splendour of their brilliant faculties is frequently tarnished by their concomitant failings. Yet, after all, a candid disposition will be inclined to admit, that many allowances ought to be made for the infirmities of our common nature, and that undeviating propriety or unerring rectitude cannot be reasonably expected, even from the brightest genius, or the most exalted and capacious mind.
ADVANTAGES OF UNWRITTEN LAW.
The consideration of that excellent system of law, which has obtained for our highly favoured country, and preserved to it, the enviable and distinctive appellation of the Land of Liberty, must at all seasons be well deserving of our attention; and it appears to me may be peculiarly interesting in these times, when the revolutions and convulsions that have recently occurred in several of the neighbouring states of Europe, have directed an universal enquiry into the principles of all known forms of government, and have given rise to many new theories and systems, most of which I believe offer, as the highest desideratum, concise written codes of law, which it is pretended may be rendered so plain, simple, and determinate, that he who runs may read, and, having read, be charmed into willing obedience.
Perfect, however, as these theories and systems may appear upon paper, I fear there is little chance of their being successfully brought into practice, whilst man continues so much the creature of habit as he is, and so strange a mixture of virtue and vice, wisdom and folly, of strength and weakness, daring and fear, actuated by such an infinite variety of motives, passions, and prejudices, and acted upon by so many external circumstances.
Sir William Blackstone describes the Common Law as that “by which Proceedings and Determinations in the King's Ordinary Courts of Justice are guided and directed. It for the most part settles the course in which lands descend by inheritance; the manner and form of acquiring and transferring property; the solemnities and obligations of contracts; the rules of expounding wills, deeds, and acts of parliament; the respective remedies of civil injuries; the several species of temporal offences, with the manner and degree of punishment; and an infinite number of minuter particulars which diffuse themselves as extensively as the ordinary distribution of common justice requires.
VOL. I. PART II.
These embrace almost all the objects of municipal law, and therefore I have said form the substance of the laws of England. They are a collection of ancient customs banded down to us, some probably from the primitive Britons, and others introduced by the succeeding settlers. here, their original institution and authority not being set down in writing, but depending entirely upon immemorial usage. The evidences of their existence are contained in the records of the several courts of justice, in books of reports and judicial decisions, and in the treatises of learned men of the profession. The judges are the expounders of the law, and they are sworn to determine according to the known customs and laws of the land; that is to say, they are to take precedents for their guide, unless when the former determination is evidently contrary to reason or morality; and thus the law always intends to conform to reason, and it is said that what is not reason is not law.
This is a very short and imperfect sketch of the Common Law, as I find it described by Blackstone, and it is my purpose to attempt to shew that being founded on custom, it necessarily possesses advantages over all written law, however perfect upon abstract principles such written law
The first advantage of laws founded upon immemorial usage that arrests attention, is, that they must necessarily be agreeable to the genius and circumstances of the people
. Having grown with their growth, and strengthened with their strength; such laws not only obtain willing obedience, but are adhered to with affectionate attachment. Nothing is more fully established by all history than the obstinate adherence of all nations to their ancient customs, and the difficulty of permanently subjecting them to new laws, however preferable in theory they may appear to the old. All the power and art of William and his successors, could not reconcile the inhabitants of this country to the Norman laws, and after many struggles and many promises, often violated and often renewed, the Dome Book of Alfred, and the Laws of Edward the Confessor, (which were digests of the various traditionary laws in force,) were effectually restored, and continue to this day the foundation and substance of our Common Law,
Indeed, it is to the adherence of the English to their ancient customs, and their wise and firm opposition to the introduction of the Roman Code of Laws, that the preservation of our liberties has been attributed, whilst the inhabitants of the states of the continent, who allowed the church to impose that code upon them, have, although descended from the