Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

I'll break your clamour with your neck. Down stairs ;
Tumble, tumble headlong. Som

[He throws her down, and stabs the child. The surest way to charm a woman's tongue Is, break her neck: a politician did it.

Son. Mother! mother! I'm kill'd,-mother! (Wife awakes.

Wife. Ha—who's that cried? O me! my children!
Both, both-bloody, bloody! [Catches up the youngest child.

Hus. Strumpet, let go the boy ! let go the beggar!
Wife. O, my sweet husband !
Hus. Filth, harlot !
Wife. O, what will you do, dear husband ?
Hus. Give me the bastard.
Wife. Your own sweet boy-
Hus. There are too many beggars.
Wife. Good, my husband-
Hus. Dost thou prevent me still?
Wife. O, God!
Hus. Have at his heart.

[Stabs at the child in her arms.
Wife. O, my dear boy!
Hus. Brat, thou shalt not live to shame thy house
Wife. O, heaven !

[She is hurt, and sinks down. Hus. And perish !-Now be gone: There's whores enough, and want would make thee one.*

Enter a Servant.
Ser. O, sir, what deeds are these ?

Hus. Base slave, my vassal !
Com'st thou between my fury to question me?

Ser. Were you the devil, I would hold you, sir.
Hus. Hold me? Presumption! I'll undo thee for it.
Ser. 'Sblood, you've undone us all, sir.
Hus. Tug at thy master?
Ser. Tug at a monster.
Hus. Have I no power ? shall a slave fetter me?
Ser. Nay, then, the devil wrestles ; I am thrown.

Hus. O, villain! now I'll tug thee, now I'll tear thee.
Set quick spurs to my vassal; bruise him, trample him.
Lo—I think thou wilt not follow me in haste.
My horse stands ready saddled,-away, away.

* This seem's to justify what we have said above, as to his not really suspecting her virtue, notwithstanding the epithets he applies to her and her children.

Now to my brat at nurse, my sucking beggar.
Fates ! I'll not leave you one to trample on."

Before he is able to accomplish his design upon the other child, he is taken, examined by a magistrate, and committed for trial. And the piece concludes by his being led out (as on the succeeding day) to be executed, having first had an interview with his wife, in which she exhibits the same forgiving gentleness and forbearance that she had done before this fatal consummation of his guilt.

Such is A Yorkshire Tragedy; a little drama evidently written by a powerful hand, and as evidently struck off in great haste, and to serve a temporary purpose. It is, as far as we are acquainted with works of this kind, unique in its kind, with reference to the age in which it was written; being, to that age, what the melo-drama is to our's. With this especial difference, however,-that, though collaterally it derives its interest from the curiosity we feel about the crimes and misfortunes of our fellow-creatures, yet its direct and immediate effect arises from the simple and natural developement of human passion; and the obvious tendency of that effect is to strengthen the human heart, by informing it of its wants and weaknesses, and at the same time soften it by making it a partaker in those of others. Whereas, the modern substitutes for this kind of drama, though they unquestionably do stir the imagination and disturb the affections, accomplish this end merely as an endwhich is bad; and they accomplish it by means in themselves mischievous—which is worse. Instead of choosing guilt for their main theme, and developing its natural causes and natural consequences, they choose innocence lying under the imputation of guilt, and suffering all the punishments attendant on it. The melo-drama is undoubtedly a most clever invention, as far as its mere attractive. ness goes ; and the writers of our own days may claim all the merit that is due to the originating of it. Do what we will, we cannot avoid being interested (as the phrase is) by one of . these dramas, when it is well constructed—we mean “well,” with reference to the end it has in view. And it is very possible to feel that interest without being in the least degree aware of its deleterious effects, either at the time or afterwards. But we do not believe that it is possible to avoid these effects, or to avoid feeling and acknowledging them when they are properly examined and pointed out. We have not space to do this now, nor would it perhaps be quite consistent with the objects of our work. We have, however, thought it worth while to say thus much on the subject, because we cannot help observing that time seems in no degree to blunt the public

appetite for this unwholesome dramatic food, or rather drink; for it is the dram-drinking of the drama ; with this obvious advantage in favour of the subject to which we have now compared it, -that the material of which the one is composed can occasionally be used medicinally, if the patient or the prescriber chooses ; whereas, the other in no case can.

Art. III.- Observations on the more Ancient Statutes, from

Magna Charta to the 21st of James I. cap. 27. With an Appendir, being a proposal for new modelling the Statutes. By the Hon. Daines Barrington, Justice of the Counties of Merioneth, Carnarvon, and Anglesey. London: sold by s. Baker and G. Leigh, in York-street. 4to. 1766.

“ Tout homme de bon entendement,” says an old French writer, “sans voir une histoire accomplie, peut presque imaginer, de quelle humeur fut un peuple, lorsqu'il lit ses anciens Statuts et ordonnances, et d'un mesme jugement peut tirer en conjecture qu'elles furent ses loix voyant sa manière de vivre."This very sensible observation would form an appropriate motto for a work, which is amongst the greatest desiderata in our literature—a philosophical and censorial history of the English Law. The system of our jurisprudence, awfully intricate as it has become, had its origin and progress in certain definite causes, which are for the most part capable of being traced and analysed. Not a statute can have been enacted in our Parliaments, not a rule adopted by our Courts, but upon some ground or reason arising out of the necessities or the prejudices of society. In its turn, the law exerts a powerful influence upon the feelings and conduct of the community; and thus, both as cause and effect, is intimately blended with national history. To maintain that the rule and guide of human actions is unconnected with their history, is a paradox to which every one must refuse his assent.

It is singular, considering the interest and utility of such an enquiry, that so little has hitherto been effected towards its accomplishment. Perhaps the real cause may be discovered in the difficulty of the undertaking. Such high and various knowledge, such opposite and extraordinary qualities, would be requisite to complete the work, that we doubt whether an individual will ever be found, whose ability, and industry, and inclination, shall all urge him to the attempt. He must be a nice and painful antiquarian, but a profound and enlightened historian; à laborious lawyer, but a high-minded philosopher; a curious

observer of particulars, but a masterly combiner of generals; in short, a man skilled in all opposites. It is not, therefore, very marvellous that we do not possess any one writer uniting in himself all these rare attributes, though we are not without authors who severally lay claim to the individual qualities. In Hume the philosopher prevails : in history he is a compiler; in law and antiquities a novice. Mr. Reeves, on the contrary, the author of the only work which has any fair claim to the title of a History of the English Law, is a mere lawyer. “ I believe,” says he in his preface, “little is to be acquired by travelling out of the record; I mean out of the statutes and year-books, the parliament-rolls and law-tracts.” The reason which he gives for this truly legal opinion has always appeared to us peculiarly unsound. “The lay-historians, like the body of the people, were as unconcerned in the great revolutions of legal learning in those days as in ours : and we now see a statute for enclosing a common, or erecting a public workhouse, make no small figure in the debates of parliament; while an act for the amendment of the law, in the most material instances, slides through in silence.” It might have occurred to Mr. Reeves, that though chroniclers are silent as to the act for the amendment of the law, traces of it must still be discoverable in their pages in the increasing intelligence and the new wants of society-in short, in all the various circumstances which have induced the change. Historians may neglect to notice the repeal of the statutes against witchcraft, but cannot we gather from their narratives the causes of that repeal in the diffusion of books and knowledge, and the consequent dispersion of superstition? The natural result of the system adopted by Mr. Reeves has been the production of a work so cruelly tedious and painful to the reader, that the most resolute industry often fails to accomplish its perusal. It is the Arabia Petræa of the unfortunate law-student, with no spot of verdure, no spring of water to cheer and refresh him. Notwithstanding the extraordinary aridity of these volumes, they are still highly useful, on account of the accuracy and extent of their information. The chapter in the Commentaries “on the rise, progress, and gradual improvement of the laws of England,” is one of the ablest sketches we possess of the manner in which the historical part of a history of our law should be treated.

Mr. Daines Barrington is more of the antiquarian and historian than of the philosopher or lawyer. He has selected from the earliest volume of our statute-book a number of acts, upon which he has given a commentary, curious rather in an antiquarián point of view than in its illustration of the changes introduced into our legal polity. Many of the statutes commented upon afford an ample field for the display of much research into the manners and customs of the times. Others again throw much light upon the historical events of the period. Upon some occasions the author digresses considerably, but the matter thus introduced is always curious and valuable. Upon the whole his work may be regarded as in itself interesting and amusing, and capable of furnishing much important assistance to any one engaged in the compilation of a more complete and luminous history of our old law. In the present article our object will be to shew, by a reference to Mr. Barrington's work, and by such further illustrations as may at the time occur to us, the intimate connexion existing between the history of our law and that of our constitution, character, and manners.

The concluding words of the twenty-ninth chapter of Magna Charta,-nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus aut differemus rectum vel justitiam, afford the author an opportunity of making some observations upon a practice strongly illustrative of the spirit of the age in which it prevails—the soliciting and bribing of persons in judicial situations. The standard of public principle must be miserably low when those who are appointed to distribute justice are the first to pollute the pure fountains from which it ought to issue ; and yet until a late period in our history we find instances of the practice. The observations of Mr. Barrington apply more particularly to the interference of the Crown, with the duties and conduct of the Judges.

“ The latter part of this chapter of Magna Charta is calculated to prevent abuses in the Crown, with regard to the administration of justice. It was usual to pay fines anciently for delaying law proceedings, even to the extent of the defendant's life; sometimes they were exacted, to expedite process and to obtain right: and in some cases, the parties litigant offered part of what they were to recover to the Crown. Maddox collects, likewise, many instances of fines for the King's favour; and particularly of the Dean of London's paying twenty marks to the King, that he might assist him against the Bishop, in a law suit. William Stutevill presented to King John three thousand marks, for giving judgement with relation to the Barony of Mowbray, which Stutevill claimed against William de Mowbray.

“To the honour of the very pure administration of justice in this kingdom, since the revolution, we can hardly suppose such a practice to be avowed and established in a civilized country. But it must be remembered, that Charles the Second, in appeals to the House of Lords, used to go about whilst the cause was hearing, and solicit particular lords, for appellant or respondent: and England is, perhaps, the only country in Europe where the judges are not solicited in the face of the sun. Whitelock, then a barrister, applied to the judges with regard to a prosecution for a libel on his father, who had been on the bench, and was then dead. The libeller was indicted after this previous conversation, and convicted. Oliver Cromwell also interfered in the decision of the Scottish Judges, whilst he was Protector:

« AnteriorContinuar »