صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

It is not true, therefore, that men of elevated stations are exempted from work : it is only true that there is assigned to them work of a different kind : whether more easy, or more pleasant, may be questioned ; but certainly not less wanted, not less essential to the common good. Were this maxim once properly received as a principle of conduct, it would put men of fortune and rank upon inquiring what were the opportunities of doing good (for some, they may depend upon it, there are), which in a more especial manner belonged to their situation or condition; and were this principle carried into anything like its full effect, or even were this way of thinking sufficiently inculcated, it would completely remove the invidiousness of elevated stations. Mankind would see in them this alternative : If such men discharged the duties which were attached to the advantages they enjoyed, they deserved these advantages : if they did not, they were, morally speaking, in the situation of a poor man, who neglected his business and his calling; and in no better. And the proper reflection in both cases is the same : the individual is in a high degree culpable, yet the business and the calling beneficial and expedient.

The habit and the disposition which we wish to recommend, namely, that of casting about for opportunities of doing good, readily seizing those which accidentally present themselves, and faithfully using those which naturally and regularly belong to our situations, appear to be sometimes checked by a notion very natural to active spirits and to flattered talents. They will not be content to do little things. They will either attempt mighty matters or do nothing. The small effect which the private endeavours of an individual can produce upon the mass of social good is so lost and so unperceived in the comparison,

that it neither deserves, they think, nor rewards, the attention which it requires. The answer is, that the comparison, which thus discourages them, ought never to be made. The good which their efforts can produce may be too minute to bear any sensible proportion to the sum of public happiness, yet may be their share ; may be enough for them. The proper question is not whether the good we aim at be great or little; still less, whether it be great or little in comparison with the whole : but whether it be the most which it is in our power to perform. A single action may be, as it were, nothing to the aggregate of moral good; so also may be the agent. It may still,

. therefore, be the proportion which is required of him. In all things nature works by numbers. Her greatest effects are achieved by the joint operation of multitudes of, separately considered, insignificant individuals. It is enough for each that it executes its office. It is not its concern, because it does not depend upon its will, what place that office holds in, or what proportion it bears to, the general result. Let our only comparison, therefore, be between our opportunities and the use which we make of them. When we would extend our views, or stretch out our hand to distant and general good, we are commonly lost and sunk in the magnitude of the subject. Particular good, and the particular good which lies within our reach, is all we are concerned to attempt or to inquire about. Not the smallest effort will be forgotten ; not a particle of our virtue will fall to the ground. Whether successful or not, our endeavours will be recorded; will be estimated, not according to the proportion which they bear to the universal interest, but according to the relation which they hold to our means and opportunities ; according to the disinterestedness, the sincerity, with which we undertook, the pains and perseverance with which we carried them on. It

may be true, and I think it is the doctrine of Scripture, that the right use of great faculties or great opportunities will be more highly rewarded than the right use of inferior faculties and less opportunities. He that with ten talents had made ten talents more was placed over ten cities. The neglected talent was also given to him. He who with five talents had made five more, though pronounced to be a good and faithful servant, was placed only over five cities. (Matt. xxv. 20, et seq.) This distinction might, without any great harshness to our moral feelings, be resolved into the will of the supreme Benefactor: but we can see, perhaps, enough of the subject to perceive that it was just. The merit may reasonably be supposed to have been more in one case than the other. The danger, the activity, the care, the solicitude, were greater. Still both received rewards, abundant beyond measure when compared with the services, equitable and proportioned when compared with one another.

That our obligation is commensurate with our opportunity, and that the possession of the opportunity is sufficient without any farther or more formal command to create the obligation, is a principle of morality and of Scripture; and is alike true in all countries. But that power and property so far go together as to constitute private fortunes into public stations, as to cast upon large portions of the community occasions which render the preceding principles more constantly applicable, is the effect of civil institutions, and is found in no country more than in ours; if in any so much. With us a great part of the public business of the country is transacted by the country itself: and upon the prudent and faithful management of it depends, in a very considerable degree,

the interior prosperity of the nation, and the satisfaction of great bodies of the people. Not only offices of magistracy, which affect and pervade every district, are delegated to the principal inhabitants of the neighbourhood, but there is erected in every country a high and venerable tribunal, to which owners of permanent property, down almost to their lowest classes, are indiscriminately called ; and called to take part, not in the forms and ceremonies of the meeting, but in the most efficient and important of its functions. The wisdom of man hath not devised a happier institution than that of juries, or one founded in a juster knowledge of human life, or of the human capacity. In jurisprudence, as in every science, the points ultimately rest upon common sense. But to reduce a question to these points, and to propose them accurately, requires not only an understanding superior to that which is necessary to decide upon them when proposed, but oftentimes also a technical and peculiar erudition. Agreeably to this distinction, which runs perhaps through all sciences, what is preliminary and preparatory is left to the legal profession ; what is final, to the plain understanding of plain men. But since it is necessary that the judgment of such men should be informed; and since it is of the utmost importance that advice, which falls with so much weight, should be drawn from the purest sources ; judges are sent down to us, who have spent their lives in the study and administration of the laws of their country, and who come amongst us, strangers to our contentions, if we have any, our parties, and our prejudices ; strangers to everything except the evidence which they hear. The effect corresponds with the wisdom of the design. Juries may err, and frequently do so; but there is no system of error incorporated with their constitution. Corruption, terror,



[ocr errors][ocr errors]

influence, are excluded by it; and prejudice, in a great degree, though not entirely. This danger, which consists in juries viewing one class of men, or one class of rights, in a more or less favourable light than another, is the only one to be feared, and to be guarded against. It is a disposition, which, whenever it rises up in the minds of jurors, ought to be repressed by their probity, their consciences, the sense of their duty, the remembrance of their oaths.

And this institution is not more salutary than it is grateful and honourable to those popular feelings of which all good governments are tender. Hear the language of the law. In the most momentous interests, in the last peril indeed of human life, the accused appeals to God and his country, “which country you are."


pomp of titles, what display of honours, can equal the real dignity which these few words confer upon those to whom they are addressed ? They show, by terms the most solemn and significant, how highly the law deems of the functions and character of a jury; they show, also, with what care of the safety of the subject it is that the same law has provided for every one a recourse to the fair and indifferent arbitration of his neighbours. This is substantial equality; real freedom : equality of protection ; freedom from injustice. May it never be invaded, never abused! May it be perpetual! And it will be so, if the affection of the country continue to be preserved to it by the integrity of those who are charged with its office.

« السابقةمتابعة »