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ON TIIE INCONSISTENCIES AND CRIMES OF COMMUNITIES.
HUMAN NATURE has been justly termed "a bundle of inconsistencies." This is sufficiently true of individuals, to justify the adage. The varying states of the human mind under the influence of mood and feeling, the fluctuations to which it is subject, in consequence of its connexion with a physical system which is in a great measure at the mercy of external and uncontrollable agency, no less than its dependence upon circumstances and events entirely without the sphere of its direction, sufficiently demonstrate the truth of this humiliating statement. But, perhaps, it is still more strikingly true of human nature, considered collectively, than it is of the majority of individuals. In their social capacity, men seem but little sensible of the weight of personal responsibility. “ Defendit numerus.” The guilt of any practice, or of any bad system of social regulation, is divided among a multitude; and as each individual professes but a limited influence upon the potions and conduct of the whole, so he acknowledges but a slender share of accountability for the conduct of the community to which he belongs. Hence opinions pass uncontradicted, and practices are pursued, among societies which claim a high character for conscientiousness, and even for Christian principle, which would be indignantly disavowed by the large majority of individuals.
The proof of these remarks may be read upon the very surface of national history; and certainly the records of our own country and of our own times furnish ample illustration of their truth. It has, for example, been ever received as one of the fundamental principles of our political constitution, that the third estate of the realm is to consist of a perfect representation of the people. It is this principle which completes the boasted harinony of our system of government; and it is only on this principle that our nation can be considered to possess that freedom which every Englishman claims as his birthright. Indeed, it has ever been held as of the nature of an axiom, and has been assumed as such in the House of Commons, in the days of its foulest corruption. Yet who, that compares the present constitution of that House, with what it was but five years ago, can fail to perceive that if it is now any thing like a representation of the people of England, it was then any thing else than this ? And, who that compares even its present constitution with that which is assigned to it in theory, can doubt that many important changes must pass upon it still, before it fulfils its appointed functions, and completes the integrity of that system which it goes to constitute ? Yet but a few years prior to the corrective measures which have been recently adopted, this intelligent, thinking, and moral nation viewed, with almost entire indifference, the wide deviation of this branch of their legislature from its proper character, and quietly tolerated all the abominations, political, moral, and religious, to which that deviation
Let us imagine a political millennium. Let us suppose (and it is not a chimerical supposition,) a state of things in which our posterity shall legislate upon those inviolable principles of moral truth, by which, as a Christian nation, we now profess to be guided ; in which they shall not only acknowledge, but feel, that what is morally wrong can never be politically right; that “justice is itself the standing policy of civil society," and that any departure from it, under any circumstances, is no policy at all. Should the records of our national iniquity be preserved until that time, (and they will probably be very ancient and disputable documents long before it arrives,) the historical students of that day will become acquainted with the following facts : that in the 18th century, the parliament of this country listened to the eloquence and the political wisdom of some of the most illustrious men that ever adorned it; that their deliberations were sanctified (as some thought) by the presence of the ministers of religion ; that the equitable administration of the laws was secured by publicity, as well as by the vigilance of the legislature, and of the people at large; that education was making a progress unexampled in the history of the world ; that the spirit of liberty was at its height; and that the Christes religion was dominant at home, and spreading abroad. They will read, that at this very time, under the sanction of this Government, and with scarcely a dissentient voice among its subjects, the unoffending inhabitants of the distant and almost unknown coasts of Africa were visited by English vessels, stolen from their homes, conveyed to our West India colonies in such numbers, that a large proportion of them invariably perished on the passage by suffocation, neglect, or punishment; that they were there separated and sold, and, while all the attachments of nature and instinct were laceraled and festering, the memory of these ills was effaced by a series of inconceivable toils and torments, from which they were only relieved by a mortality unknown except under the immediate indio tions of the Divine judgments. They will learn that a few individuals of singular philasthropy arose, who deeply felt, and inveighed against, the injustice and atrocity of this system, and devoted their lives to its extirpation; but that they were very generally regarded as enthusiasts, who were willing to sacrifice the commercial interests of the country to certain abstract principles of their own. That, after years of futile effort, the reins of government were placed in the hands of one, whose benevolence was as ample as his genius, and who bequeathed his name to immortality, linked with the ABOLITION OF
THE SLAVE TRADE.
But with what unmeasured indignation and contempt will they view the conduct of their ancestors subsequently to this great act of justice. That a Christian nation, after having thus slowly and reluctantly yielded to the imperative claims of humanity, after having committed themselves to the principle upon which the continuance of slavery must be condemned as the last of atrocities, should have still continued carefully to rear slaves, and only so far altered the laws affecting them, as to make them a contraband article of import; worst of all, that they should have visited with the most malignant persecution those who dared to speak to them of hope even beyond the grave, and to mitigate the horrors of bondage by announcing “a rest that remaineth ;"—surely, if such persons as have been supposed, should read and believe these accounts, they would blush to belong to the same species as ourselves. We may, however, imagine that they would read on, with some degree of curiosity, to discover what we proposed to ourselves in this monstrous inconsistency and atrocity; and at length they will satisfactorily trace it to a general preference of one kind of sugar to another, and a prevalent taste for run and water, and cigars !!
But leaving hypothesis. It is not too much to assert,—that no man, of average good sense and good feeling, would tolerate improprieties analagous to these in his own household, or in any social system under his exclusive control; and that, not from their interference with his own comfort, but from their inconsistence with the universally received principles of equity. Yet society tolerales them; and finds its defence, as one would suppose, in the same excuses as might be framed by a riotous mob, in which the ringleaders would plead that they were impelled forward involuntarily by the multitude in their rear; while the multitude would plead their ignorance of the mischief which was done by the foremost.
But, perhaps, the strongest instance of inconsistency belween the opinions of each individual, and the almost universal conduct of society, is to be found in the practice of duelling. There can be little doubt as to the origin of this absurd and barbarous custom. It is a relic of one of the most gross and stupid superstitions which ever disgraced human nature—that of litigation by combat. The principle in which this practice originated, namely, that God would decide for the right, in every instance of dispute, by the death of the injuring party, is sufficiently absurd ; and is only to be accounted for by the utter ignorance and barbarism of those who adopted it. But this principle has long been abandoned. The practice is continued on very different grounds ; but these, while they are more wicked, are equally irrational and indefensible. It is manifest that the practice of duelling is not now regarded as a mode of revenge, else it would be punished with death;
for it is “malice aforethought,” which, in the eye of the law, constitutes murder. Again, as a means of reparation, it is utterly absurd ; for the injured party generally subjects himself to a degree of danger equal to that incurred by the aggressor, and consequently runs an even chance of adding mutilation or death to the injury he has previously sustained. It is impossible, therefore, to attribute this motive to the challenger, except in those few cases in which the chances are known to be in his favour. The principle by which duellists are generally actuated appears to be this—that the commission of the affront supposes that the party against whom it is committed will be afraid to resent it, and therefore virtually charges him with cowardice; but cowardice, in warlike and chivalrous nations, is held as a crime which renders a man infamous, and ought to exclude him from society; and the stigmatized party feels himself
, in consequence, bound to prove his courage by fighting the aggressor. Now, we imagine that, whatever be the result of a duel, it will be difficult, morally, to clear the duellist of all the sin which attaches to suicide, to murder, or to both ; the latter, certainly the most frightful accumulation of guilt which any single action can involve. At all events, we will hazard an opinion, that no man accepts a challenge, without a distinct conviction of the heinousness of his conduct; but he dares not endure the alternative. “ The state of society," says he, “ obliges me to this; else, I must prepare for the stigma and sneer of my associates ; and that, I dare not and will not incur.” In this, which we are persuaded is the true point of view, the conduct of the party alluded to assumes a character which, if the subject were not a solemn one, would be unspeakably ridiculous. His conscience and his instincts revolt from this mode of proving his courage ; but he adopts it because he dares not incur the consequences of declining it—that is, (as he knows that every body will perceive,) because he is fearful of being thought afraid to do so!! The peculiar character of the logic by which the duellist arrives at his conclusion, will, perhaps, suggest to the reader a reason why the practice is so prevalent in the sister kingdom.
But it is not only the principle of duelling which is indefensible and absurd, the most monstrous inconsistencies are involved in the practice. Can any thing be imagined more preposterous than that the first General of the present day, covered with the glory of a hundred victories, at the summit of reputation both as a soldier and a commander, and occupying the most important station in the government of his country, should feel it necessary, in order to prove his courage, to exchange shots with a harmless and respectable country gentleman, who happened to be a little bilious and irritable ? Yet this farce we have seen enacted in our own day. We had hoped, indeed, that this occurrence would have been the means of exploding the custom, by demonstrating such an intolerable absurdity. But this appears to have been premature ; it has but recently, in the blouse of Commons, received the virtual sanction of one of the most influential and respected members of the present government, whose excellent sense and proverbial goodness of heart were unable to stand against the fashion of his associates ; who lost the opportunity of distinguishing himself by an open reprobation of this absurdity, and was content to rank among the fops and fools of his day.
Here, then, is a striking instance of inconsistency and guilt, peculiar to men in their collective capacity. A practice which would be repudiated by each individual composing society, is retained by each, because society enforces it! This is scarcely too strong a statement of the case. And whence are we to expect the remedy? Upon the infatuation which dictates this childish practice, all argument is lost and thrown away. Moreover, it has already been so unmercifully burlesqued and caricatured, that we can hope for but little effect from ridicule, unless some second Cervantes should arise, and level against it the laughter of the world.
This is, it must be confessed, a most humiliating, though, we believe, a just view of society : need we go far for the inferences to which it leads, and the lessons it is adapted to impress ? A very cursory examination of the inconsistencies which we have indicated, will convince us that they are mainly attributable to the want of independence and decision of mind. They could never have originated, except from the universal surrender of the right of private judgment; and nothing more is necessary to explode them at once and for ever, than a general or even a partial assertion of that right. However true it is that “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety,” it is equally true that “where no counsel is, the people fall;" that the large majority of society never think for themselves, and are helplessly dependent for the accuracy of their notions on those to whom they yield a servile acquiescence : surely, in bending to such a majority, we shall “ follow the multitude to do evil.” Apart from the ignominy of this “ passive obedience," as involving the surrender of that freedom of mind which is the birthright and the glory of human nature, it is chargeable with a high degree of moral turpitude, as evincing an utter insensibility to the value of truth, and the consequent sacredness of opinion. The charge of eccentricity, therefore, (except on those points which “come home to every man's business and bosom,” and on which, therefore, each individual thinks for himsell, appears to be one of a very light, and often of a very enviable character. While the monstrous inconsistencies and vices which we have noticed, and which will probably suggest others to the mind of the thoughtful reader, receive the blind and tacit sanction of the community; eccentricity must wear the aspect of a duty, and that conformity to which it is opposed, however favourable it may be to the repose of society, is chargeable with all the results which follow from those fatal slumbers.
There is such a thing as the despotism of the many, far more to be feared than that of any individual. To the latter species of tyranny, Providence has appointed some mitigations, by limiting the term of life, and the sphere of personal influence. But though individual tyrants die off (through God's mercy) and “go to their own place," this more formidable tyrant, this “bellua multorum capitum," dever dies, but continues from generation to generation, to rivet upon men the fetters of custom, the more fatally secure from being neither seen nor heard, - nor even felt, except when they are attempted to be broken. It is evident that this power could never have arrived at the illegitimate height which it has attained, had not men lost sight of the fact, that though they might act in a collective capacity, they were responsible as individuals. It is then the duty of the wise and the good to assert, and act upon this principle, and to draw from it the motives which it supplies to decision of character. It is the want of this most ennobling distinction of the human mind, to which most of the inconsistencies and crimes of communities are attributable. It is the cultivation of it to which we must look for their only sure and permanent remedy. At the same time, while we connect these results with decision of character, it is necessary to distinguish between it, and that obstinacy which sometimes resembles it in its operation, but which is a vice as common as the virtue which it apes is rare. The essential difference between them is easily stated. Obstinacy is the invariable mark of an obtuse and insusceptible mind, and consists in immoveable adherence to opinions or purposes, irrespectively of the arguments and opinions of others; but to decision of character, nothing is more essential than extended induction and mature deliberation ; at the same time, the capital distinction of the decided mind is, that while it entertains the opinions, arguments, or practice of others, they merely enter as elements into a calculation which is throughout conducted by itself alone. The essential difference between the genuine and counterfeit, between true decision of character and “that false and contemptible kind of decision which we term obstinacy,” has been admirably illustrated by one of the greatest moralists of whom our literature can boast, in his incomparable Essay on Decision of Character; where he designates obstinacy “a temper which can assign no reasons but mere will for a constancy, which acts in the nature of dead weight, rather than of strength; resembling less the reaction of a powerful spring than the gravitation of a big stone."
excursive tour, his residence at one place, MEMOIR OF THOMAS CORYATE,
except at Venice, seldom exceeded a few
days. He remained at Paris only till the ECCENTRIC biography has its uses, in exhi- 28th of May, during which time he visited biting the varieties of human nature, the Isaac Casaubon, with whom he had much ffects of the passions on the conduct of familiar conversation. Froin Paris he went nen, or of certain predominant tendencies to Lyons, where he had an interview and disvhen destitute of their natural counterac- pute with a Turk belonging to the train of ives, in whom the imagination takes the the French ambassador at Constantinople. place of reason. Among the strange cha- This Turk, it seems, understood six or seven acters that have attracted curiosity, without languages, besides Latin, which he spake endering any benefit to themselves or others, well. Coryate quitted Lyons on the 6th he subject of this memoir was particularly of June, and ascended Mount Cenis on the remarkable; and his history, therefore, may 11th of the same month. The next day he ifford amusement and instruction.
arrived at Turin, where he was severely Thomas CORYATE, the son of George attacked with an inflammation in his hands Coryate, prebendary of York, and rector and face. From Turin he went to Milan, of Odcombe, in Somersetshire, was born in next to Lodi, and afterwards to Padua, the parsonage-house of the latter place, in where, in the church of St. Anthony, he 1577. From Winchester school he went observed a monument, which made him, to Gloucester Hall, Oxford, where he con- he says, very melancholy; being that of a tinued three years, and profited consider- cerlain English nobleman, viz., Edward ably in Latin and Greek, as well as in Courtenay, Earl of Devonshire, who was logic and scholastic learning. In 1600, he buried there in the time of Queen Mary. assembled his neighbours at Odcombe, on He was the son of Henry, Earl of DevonWhitsunday, and with them made a caval- shire and Marquis of Exeter, who was cade to Yeovil, where he delivered an oration beheaded by Queen Mary. • Truly, it at the cross, to the people of that town, struck great compassion and remorse in and about two thousand persons more, who me," observes Coryate, "to see an Engcame thither from many places in the lishman so ignobly buried. For his body neighbourhood. His design in this pro- lieth in a poore wooden coffin, placed upon ceeding, he says, was to draw a great com- another faire monument, having neither pany to Odcombe, for the benefit of the epitaph nor any other thing to preserve it church; the whole stock, for the reparation from oblivion, so that I could not have of which, had been expended. On the known it for an Englishman's coffin, death of his father, soon after, Coryate except an English_gentleman, my kind removed to London, and was received friend, Mr. George Rooke, had told me of there into the household of Henry Prince it, and shewed me the same.” of Wales, who allowed him a pension, Coryate remained at Padua three days. and the attendance of a servant. What On leaving it, he proceeded to Venice, kind of office he held in the royal house- where he arrived on the 24th of June. Of hold is not stated, though it seems to have this place he speaks with rapture : "it been any thing but honourable, for Dr. yieldeth,” says he, “the most glorious and Fuller says that “Sweetmeats and Coryate heavenly shew upon the water that ever made
the last course at all entertain- any mortal eye beheld ; such a shew as did ments ;" indeed, adds the historian, “he ravish me with delight and admiration." was the courtier's anvil to try their wits Here he resided six weeks, which he deupon, and sometimes this anvil returned the clares to have been the sweetest time, for hammers as hard knocks as he received, so much, he ever spent in his life. As at his bluntness repaying their abuse." Lyons he entered into a dispute with a
Until this time he had lived in obscurity, Turk on the truth of the Christian religion ; but now he fell into the company of wits, so here he engaged in another, with a Jewwho, as Anthony Wood remarks, “ finding ish rabbi, whom he endeavoured to conhim little better than a fool in many respects, vert, but without effect, and to the danger made him their whetstone, and so he
of his life. “ After there had passed many became notus nimis omnibus." In the vehement speeches, to and fro, betwixt us,' beginning of 1608, Coryate commenced says he, “ it happened that some forty or his travels on foot through Europe. On fifty Jews more focked about me, and some the 14th of May he embarked at Dover, of them began very insolently to swagger with and the same day arrived at Calais, from me, because I durst reprehend their religion. whence after a short stay he proceeded to Whereupon fearing lest they would have Paris. Through the whole course of his first offered ine some violence, I withdrew my