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human characters, and human affairs, who feel their usefulness to consist rather in enforcing restraints than regulating encouragements, who too frequently acquire more expertness in imparting plausibility to misrepresentation than luminousness to truth, who sometimes lose in real wisdom not less than they gain in artificial subtlety, and who chiefly derive their information from the remote analogies, 10 or arbitrary rules of jurisprudence, rather than from the affinities and contrarieties of political systems, and the diversified energies of moral causes.
Such, dear Sir, seemed to be the opinion of Mr. Fox, when he rose to explain what others had been labouring to distort or to disguise—when he extricated right premises from the knots of wrong conclusions—when he opened some new track to principles, through a long and crowded maze of precedents—when he rescued credulity from the snares spread for its weakness, by the nimble sleights of interpretation, and amidst “ the noisy strife of tongues "—when he crushed petulance under the weight of argument—when he vanquished ingenuity by the tactics of common sense—when he set welldisciplined facts in array against a column of sturdy assumptions, preceded by raw recruits of jests and jeers, protected in the more vulnerable quarters by light hussars of quirks and quibbles, and followed by a sable rear-guard of veteran truisms, ready at any time to swell “ the pomp and circumstance” of wordy war, and to serve, like Swiss mercenaries, under any leader, and in any cause. Peculiar to Mr. Fox that opinion was not, for I am acquainted with other persons of deep reflection and unsullied who hold and avow it ; and I have seen, too, something like the effects of it, when flippant quips and solemn see-saws were put to flight by the irresistible wit of Mr. Sheridan, the masterly logic of Mr. Windham, and the stately eloquence of Mr. Pitt. But as Mr. Fox expressed the sentiments to which I allude, only in the discussion of political affairs, I am sure that, like other scholars and other statesmen, he felt a due, and therefore a great respect, for the knowledge and talents of professional men upon professional subjects. He would have allowed Æolus *l1 to bluster in his cave, and rule over the winds committed to his charge; but wished to exclude him from exercising any dominion over the ocean, as the nobler prerogative of a higher deity.
Mr. Fox was not absurd enough to imagine that the study of laws was wholly separate from that of politics. On the contrary, he knew the various points in which they were connected, and in the most interesting discussions he illustrated that connection with a readiness, clearness, and precision, which unhappily ‘and unexpectedly put an end to the embarrassments, and a check to the refinements of the ablest pleaders, and which might have induced his hearers to suppose that he had been himself“ fortia verbosi natus ad arma Fori.”up He had been the attentive hearer of an Erskine, a Dunning, a Mansfield, a Thurlow, and a Camden. He was the professed admirer of Lord Somers. He felt all
* Vid. Æneid, lib. i.
+ Vid. Ovid. Trist. lib. iv. Eleg. 9.
the veneration due to the names of a Coke, a Hale, and a Bacon. But he distinguished between the duties of a legislative assembly and a court of judicature -between the letter and the spirit of law itself—between the principles of a science, and circumstances which accompany the application of it, in the prejudices and peculiarities of its professors. He thought that men who could settle very well disputes about ruta cosa and caduca legata, and take due cognizance of greater crimes than the theft of trium capellarum, were not the fittest persons to have provided against the defeat at Cannæ-to have conducted a negociation in the Bellum Mithridaticum to have counteracted the sagacity of Hannibal, when he gave
effect to the perjuria Punici furoris, or to have appeased the dreadful contentions of a Sylla and a Marius.* He would not have been disposed any
his contemporaries, what was said of old by Megillus, όσοι των Αθηναίων εισιν αγαθοί διαφερόντως αγαθοί εισί. + But he had observed, that the habits of reasoning which some men almost mechanically contract from long practice in their own profession, produce a narrowness and obliquity in their way of thinking upon subjects partially or incidentally related to it. He seems to have suspected, too, that the frequent triumphs of subtlety might now and then in speculation weaken our natural love of truth, and in practice generate à dangerous indifference to those plain and salutary rules of conduct for which we have daily and hourly
to say of
* Vid. Martial, lib, vi. epigr. 19.
+ Vid. Plato de Leg. lib. i. lawyers to the subtlety of schoolmen, will not surprise you, when you recollect the observations of Blackstone, in his chapter on the rise, progress, and gradual improvements of the laws of England. In describing the substitution of Norman for Saxon jurisprudence, he tells us, that “the age in which it took place, and those immediately succeeding, were the æra of refinement and subtlety. That the divinity and law of those times were frittered into logical distinctions, and drawn out into metaphysical subtleties, with a skill most amazingly artificial; but which served to no other purpose than to show the vast powers of the human intellect, however vainly or preposterously employed—that law in particular, which (being intended for universal reception) ought to be a plain rule of action, became a science of the greatest intricacy-and that those scholastic reformers have transmitted their dialect and finesses to posterity, so interwoven in the body of our legal polity, that they cannot now be taken out without a manifest injury to the substance." They who employ their abilities in a science accompanied by such a dialect and such subtleties cannot wholly escape their unfavourable effects upon the human understanding ; and if a statesman were to draw his principles of action, or his turn of reasoning, from a political work of Thomas Aquinas, 13 upon the Republic of Aristotle, the scholastic character would surely be impressed upon his language, his opinions, and his measures.
Take notice, dear Sir, that while I am stating Mr. Fox's opinion, I have no wish to dissemble my own.
I do not draw, as he would not, general and invidious conclusions from particular and offensive intstances. 14 I distinguish, as he would have done, between the profound and the superficial, the discreet and the forward, the honest and the venal,15 in every class of mankind. I know, as he did, the indispensable and supreme importance of law 16 itself to the well being of every community, the energies of every government, and the safety, I had almost said, the innocence, of every individual. I am scarcely acquainted with any profession where the strongest powers of the human intellect, but assisted, you will always remember, by a liberal education, and directed by virtuous principles, can find a more extensive range for observation upon the motives and consequences of human action in private life, or be employed with more beneficial effect to human happiness in the ordinary intercourse of society. Like Mr. Fox, I have myself the honour to rank among my friends persons who deserve all the professional fame which they have acquired, and who deserve it the more, because they are gentlemen, scholars, and philosophers, as well as successful pleaders,—because their highly cultivated understandings enable them to discern the rules which ought to guide, and the boundaries which ought to limit, the application of their professional notions and usages to politics, and, above all, because they would disdain to barter their integrity for office, and prostitute their great abilities and great knowledge in the service of corruption and despotism.
Instead of wasting his time upon doubtful and