Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

in their narrowest limits. To justify which apparently govern the material any great reform, therefore, it is ne- world. How can we expect then, cessary to prove, that the object could that a great institution, almost new to not have been attained by a less violent the people, and destined to act. not departure from the established usages, on coarse or vulgar materials, but upon to which the manners and habits of the understanding, the passions, and the people have been accommodated the prejudices of men,

an institution through a succession of ages. which is to operate, not independently,

There is always a risk that great or by itself, but to be grafted on the changes, directly accomplished in the frame of our laws and manners, all the institutions of society, may be follow- parts of which have been gradually ed with many consequences which accommodated to each other ;-how cannot be foreseen by the projectors. can we expect that such an engine will The relation of cause and effect has be put in motion, without producing been but imperfectly traced, even in consequences which it was beyond the the material world ; in the intellectual discernment of the projectors to antialmost every thing is involved in doubt cipate, and out of their power to conand obscurity. But a very few links trol? of the chain can be surveyed at once, It is of great importance, therefore, even by the most penetrating and come that when we advance to the hazardprehensive understanding ; the forces ous undertakings of reform, we should which act and re-act in all directions, carefully secure a retreat in case of disare eo fine as to elude the grasp, and appointment. Should the new institu. so multifarious as to baffle the arrange- tion be found unsuitable to the state of ments, of the most skilful statesman. society in which it has been introduced There are laws, indeed, which the ma. should it

prove

useless or pernicious terial world obeys ; if there were not, -should it be found unequal to the there could be no physical science. remedy of the grievance for which it There are laws also which

the was intended, or bring along with it moral and intellectual nature of man; consequences which were not at first but their influence upon his under anticipated, there might still be some standing and his passions remains hi. consolation in the prospect, that it therto in a great degree unascertained. could be easily dispensed with, and of any great change in political in. that it had never been permitted to stitutions, it must be difficult, if not im- take deep root in the social system. possible, to estimate the consequences Those who insist on leading us through a priori ; and it is almost certain, that untried paths, ought to give some asresults which have been wholly unfore- surance that they can, without difficul. seen, will follow upon sudden or exten- ty, extricate us from the embarrasssive innovation. Great changes have, ments in which we may be involved do doubt, been accomplished in all by our willing obedience. But it is not civil institutions ; but the best of them easy, after having once advanced, to rehave been effected slowly, and in such treat without inconvenience and disa manner as almost to elude observa. grace. It is not enough in such cases tion. Every sensible mechanician would that the new measure should, from the hesitate in anticipating the operations beginning, be declared temporary ; for of a machine entirely new to him, al- although its further operation may thus though constructed with strictest be checked, the effects which it must regard to the principles of his art, and have produced in the interim will not the most exact conformity to the laws be so easily counteracted.

govern

This general remark may be illustra. ever, may fail; but this will afford no ted by referring to the judicial institu- reason to the minds of ignorant and tion lately created for Scotland. It is sanguine persons for refusing to try provided by the act of parliament, that another. The evil of repeated changes the experiment shall, in the first in- is thus encountered ; and if there be no stance, be tried for seven years only; real grievance to justify them, this cirif it is found to answer, the act will of cumstance will only perplex the more course be renewed ; if not, the ancient those, who, by coming forward on the forms of procedure will be universally present occasion, may seem to have re-established. Even should this bé. pledged themselves to the suggestion come necessary, however, and should of an indefinite number of new expe. jury-trial in civil causes be found un- dients, till the imaginary grievance suitable to Scotland, much inconvenie shall have been removed. The retreat ence must result from the experiment. of projectors, therefore, is not hand. The jury are to try questions involving somely secured by a simple provision, both law and fact; this provision seem that their experiment shall cease, if, ed indispensable to give any value what. after a certain number of years, it is ever to the institution. Should the found to be mischievous ; and if secu. new court succeed in drawing to itself rity against the evils of reform can any considerable share of the public with difficulty be obtained, this conbusiness, the consequence must be, that sideration affords a farther inducement juries will, for seven years to come, to the exercise of extreme caution in have the law of Scotland in some mea- such undertakings. sure under their control. Whether they The genius of the present age seems may prove well qualified for an under decidedly bent on changes of all detaking so arduous, is a different ques. scriptions; and without endeavouring tion ; but as it is possible that the expe- to repress a spirit, which, when wisely riment may not answer the expectations directed, leads to the happiest results, of its authors, the revolution, which in no opportunity should be omitted the meantime may thus be effected in of pointing out with candour the dif. our civil code, surely deserves consider. ficulties which are involved in all inno.

vations on the fabric of society, and Nor is this all; for as the introduc- the conditions on which alone any tion of jury-trial in civil causes may be great reform can be safely attempted. construed as amounting to a recogni. T'he love of change is contemptible ; tion by the legislature of the alleged the desire of improvement is every way imperfections of the supreme civil court laudable ; and it becomes of importwith its present constitution, there may ance, therefore, to fix deeply in the be some difficulty in silencing com- mind those considerations which distinplaints in future, when the remedy, guish the one from the other. It is a which has in the first instance been re. mere truism, which has been a thou. sorted to, shall be abandoned as hope. sand times repeated with different deless. No person will believe, that if a grees of smartness by the more zealous serious grievance had not existed, wise advocates of reform,- that the spirit, and learned men would rashly have en- which blindly opposes all innovation, countered the hazard of innovation ; must, if it had possessed universal inthe existence of a great evil is there. Aluence, have kept the world in its pri. fore announced in the formation of a mitive state of barbarism ; and that we new tribunal. The experiment, how. are indebted for the enjoyments of a

ation.

civilized life, to the ardent love of im. ty, or substitute, without due considerprovement, which has had more or less ation, his own crude fancies for actual influence in all ages. Who has denied institutions, the utility of which has this --But let it be recollected, that been proved by a long experience, is a we owe so many blessings not to a love bigot of a far more dangerous class. of change, but to a well-regulated de. It is not the strength of the attachsire of improvement,—that by a mere ment which constitutes bigotry—for it change of political institutions, the is only by an abuse of language that world never did, and never could pro. this word can be applied to the most fit,,but tha:, on the contrary, as in sincere regard for that which is useful every state in which human beings have and expedient. An overweening fond. herded together, there has been some- ness for what is bad, or inexpedient, or thing good, of which a change might dangerous, can alone constitute the bi. deprive them, so the shallow and pre• got; and we put it to any one, whe. sumptuous reformer is the most dan. ther, when the universal and equal gerous enemy of the species. He re operation of the passions among all proaches the opponents of sudden and classes is considered, and the difference inconsiderate reforms, with bigotry, betwixt an attachment to what we with a weak and superstitious attach- know by experience, and a violent de ment to existing institutions. There sire of that which has been tried only may be some foundation for this charge, in the brain, is duly weighed, the greatwhen it is not uttered as a sweeping er number of bigots, in the true sense condemnation, nor bandied about as of that word, may be expected among the watch-word of a faction ; but a the supporters, or the reformers of our very little philosophy will teach every laws and constitution. The singular one, that among large bodies of men, and stupendous political revolutions passions and prejudices are nearly ba- which have occurred within the last lanced. The opposite factions may 25 years, have had their influence in have different objects in view ; but in producing that restless spirit, which both, the excess of intemperate feeling seeks for change as a good in itself. will reduce them to the same common The example afforded by the result, is standard of human frailty. The one not indeed very encouraging; but when is attached to existing establishments, the minds of men are once accustomed the other is enamoured with the politi- to witness and admire sudden and cal creations of his own fancy,—the for- mighty revolutions, they despise the mer clings to that which he knows, the calm but firm march of true wisdom, latter to that which he imagines.- and sigh for the turbulence and bustle There is certainly something good in which had so long delighted them. the objects to which the one pays so They acquire the hardiness of veterans high a regard ; there may be nothing in the contests of reform, and although but what is bad in the idols which are they have seen how barren of every worshipped by the other. Mixed up thing that is good, and how fraught with what is good, there may be much with evils, are all sudden innovations, that is useless or bad in existing insti. they are not deterred. The entire fail. tutions; and he, who without distinc. ure of their projects, when reduced to tion defends all, is so far a weak man practice, disturbs them but little ; for and a bigot. But the visionary, who they have always some consolation left obtrudes his own idle fancies upon the them in the imputed blunders of the world,-- who would tear up by the leading actors, the impenetrable stupi. foundations the whole fabric of socie. dity of the instruments, or the general

VOL. VI. PART 1.

folly and bigotry of the age. Such ought to correspond with it. The bes persons come to the task of reform nefits, therefore, of all great and sud. with very dangerous prejudices; they den reforms in public institutions are are firmly persuaded, that there is no. disproved by experience, and appear thing good in existing institutions to be visionary, even upon the printhat it is mere bigotry which sup- ciples of abstract reasoning: ports them, and that no change can Of all the departments of the state be for the worse.

The great and un. which the spirit of innovation may in. disputed progress made in the arts and vade, there is none, perhaps, where it sciences the overthrow of scholastic is so dangerous as in the institutions prejudices--the rapid advances of spe- for the administration of justice. The culative truth, by which many of our people have a strong interest that the crude opinions have been shaken or tribunals by which their rights and eradicated, furnish them with triumph. property are to be secured should be ant arguments from analogy. They free from every blemish ; even the poforget, however, the distinction which litical constitution has not so immediprovidence has made betwixt that ate an influence over their prosperiknowledge which is indispensable to ty and happiness. Despotic governthe existence of society, and that which ment, when well administered, may is merely subservient to its comforts be found consistent with some share and embellishments. A wide field is of individual happiness; as the chief opened for the exertions of human ge- of the state has absolute power, he nius in the researches of physical cannot, if he be disposed to exerscience, and the pursuits of a more cise it mildly, be opposed by any obelevated philosophy; discoveries, at stacle to the execution of his benevoonce useful and sublime, have hitherto lent purpose. But in subordinate inrewarded, and will continue to reward stitutions, no exercise of wisdom or its efforts. Not so in morals, and the beneficence in the administration can sciences more immediately connected atone for the radical errors of the conwith the conservation of society; no stitution ; for limited power is inadegreat or sudden discovery has been quate to the correction of abuses.made in these sciences in any age of Inwell-regulated governments, besides, the world. The principles of justice, the executive power can seldom touch and truth, and fidelity, are implanted the person or property of the subject, in the human breast by the hand of but through the medium of courts of nature; they may vary a little in their justice. The judges are thus placed as form and operation in different periods a barrier between the great function. of society, but as they are still essen. aries of the executive government, and tially the same, so also they form the the mass of the people ; and it is their basis of all that is, or ever will be good duty to take care, that the shock of in social institutions. The best methods power do not fall too severely upon of ensuring the full developement of those who are intrusted to their prothese qualities, have been too long the tection. Bad laws may, by their pow. study of great and good men, to per- erful interference, sometimes be mitiga. mit us to expect from the genius of ted in practice; and the judges will modern reform any great discovery.- naturally be the first to give an imInstitutions, no doubt, must change pressive warning to the supreme au. with the state of society; the state thority, should its enactments prove of society, however, changes but slow. unsuitable to the genius, or inconsiste ly, and so must the institutions which ent with the prosperity of the people. long.

They stand betwixt the governors and come of so much importance. The the governed, to break the fall of pow. science also, which they profess, has, er as it descends. They may be com- in all ages, been considered as the pepelled for a time to execute a bad law; culiar property of the learned, while but it must be their own fault, and the general maxims of political knowit will evince a want of firmness and ledge become, in an age of free discus. integrity on their part, if they conti- sion, common almost to every rank in nue under an enlightened government, society. The errors, real or supposed, and in an age of freedom, to execute it therefore, of a popular legislature, such

as we happily possess in this country, The errors and defects of the poli. are boldly and warmly censured by tical constitution, when they lead to persons of every description, while the unjust or impolitic measures, have an mysteries of a court of justice are sel. equal influence on all classes of socie- dom pried into by the uninitiated. ty; as all are injured, all are rea. The public, therefore, is in greater dy to combine for redress; and when danger from the abuses of the tributhis happens, the remedy cannot be nals, than from those of the legislafar distant. But a faulty or perverse ture. constitution of the tribunals, although The inferences fairly deducible from it must continually produce injustice, these considerations cannot be mistadoes so only towards a few indivi. ken.' The most obvious one is, that duals at a time ; and as the peo- if there be, in truth, any gross

abuses, ple, in general, are not immediately or corruptions in our courts of law, it interested, and seldom complain unless is of high importance that they should when the injustice is flagrant, abuses be removed, while the application of are allowed to continue. In the course the cure is a matter of the greatest deof a certain period, however, all ranks licacy. Another inference, no less just, of society, and perhaps every indivi- although, perhaps, it will not be so dual in his turn, is thus made to suffer readily drawn by some persons, is this, much inconvenience and injustice.--that when our judicial establishThe vices and corruptions of courts of ments have already been matured, and justice, are in some respects far more have becomeconspicuous for those quaformidable than the excesses of politic lities which are required in such insti. cal tyranny itself; for although no des. tutions, (and this stage we have doubt. potism that ever existed ventured to less atlained in Scotland), it is expush to an extreme degree its interfe- tremely dangerous to interfere with rence with the lives and the properties them the danger to be dreaded from of its subjects, this is every day done any change being exactly proportionto individuals by the courts of justice. ed to the multitude and importance No tax has ever been imposed which of the benefits of which we are already deprived an individual of his all; but in possession.- Where great abuses do courts of civil judicature have the es- exist in the courts of justice, they netates and fortunes of men at their dis- ver fail to produce dissatisfaction.posal, and may at once reduce persons The murmurs may not be loud-the of very great opulence to want and reasoning by which the complaints are misery. Thus it is that they touch so supported may not be clear--the subnearly the interests of the people, and tlety which is supposed to belong to that their wise and sound constitution, the profession may shelter it from the and the integrity and talent by which disgrace of a glaring exposure ; but their functions are administered, be that restlessness and discontent, which

[ocr errors]
« PoprzedniaDalej »