صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

for my part, never read a novel, with half the interest that I have some of the dialogues of Bishop Berkley, who was a sophist, with an honest heart. But the sophist and the historian are incompatible characters. Facts are plain things; the moment you throw fine-spun speculation around them, they cease to be facts. What a broad, plain, roundabout mind had Thucydides and Xenophon; and this constitutes their excellence. They seem to talk like an honest witness on the stand in a court of law; and the chief elegance of their language is its simplicity. Hume was a different man; he was used to refining; and if he had tried to be honest, I doubt whether it would have been possible.

The last fault in Hume was, his want of diligence. He had pot the spirit of an antiquarian. His mind was too acute and mercurial for that. It is very rare, that a man of genius is a good searcher. Hume differed from Gibbon, in this respect. He supplied, by rapid surmises, the place of that knowledge which only investigation can bestow. It is not my intention to enter into detail ;* but his partial statements and his absurd omissions have, by recent abler writers, been fully exposed.

Yet, after all, there are few books which contain their own confutation more fully than Hume's history. He admits on one page, what would require all his acute powers to reconcile with what he says on another. Thus he says, in drawing the character of Charles the First, that the most malignant scrutiny will find no reason to question his sincerity and good faith. In short, that he was a man who always kept his word. Yet, on another page, he acknowledgest that he only intended to comply with his engagements, as far as he easily could. A fine instance of good faith in a monarch, whose throne might have been preserved, if his people could have had confidence in his keeping his word ! On one page, he laughs at the parliament, " for pretending to handle questions, for which the greatest philosophers, in the tranquillity of retreat, had never been able to find a satisfactory solution.” But, on another page, we find there never were

# It is well known, that his history of the Stuarts was written before the previous narrative. He ran it over very hastily-wrote it merely to help but his other work. Cretan against Cretan; Gibbon despatches his critique 'on Hume in three words : Ingenious, but superficiul.

+ See Hist. Great Britain, chap. ii. page 180, London ed. 1769.

greater men than the leaders of this very parliament.* Sometimes the people are actually aggrieved, and have reason to suppose their liberties are snatched from them; and anon, these grievances amount to nothing. Sometimes the ancient charters are sufficiently clear in favor of liberty ; and then again all pretences to a free constitution are innovations. It is not necessary, here, to enter into the thorny question, so much debated in England, and so useless in this country, whether English liberty can be supported by precedents. I have always supposed, that consulting their ancient statues and precedents, is very much like consulting the ante-nicene fathers, in supporting a doctrine. You are always sure to seek successfully what you are determined to find; and, thanks to God, liberty rests on reason and religion, and not on the parliaments of a half enlightened age. But, however this may be, we lose some of our confidence in the historian who crosses his own track, and admits of facts at war with his own conclusions.

Like Buonaparte, Hume's tactics depend on one great manæuvre; and it would be easy to give a recipe for writing history on his plan, which, whenever it is understood, ceases to deceive. Set up an unfounded hypothesis ; then admit half a dozen facts, which overthrow that hypothesis ; and then go on and reason as if the hypothesis must be true, and you were totally unconscious of your own concessions.

For example : the death of Stephen M. Clark, the boy who fired the town of Newburyport, is well known ; and no one, in that vicinity, I suppose, doubts his guilt, or that he was legally and justly executed. Now, suppose I should wish to impress on my readers the conviction that he was unjustly hanged, and should imitate the style of Huine-I should write thus :

• It was about this time that this youthful and unforturate victim was sacrificed to the absurd bigotry and ground pss fears of the inhabitants of Newburyport. He was led, a sid and silent spectacle, to the place of execution, in despite of his blooming youth, his fine talents, his enterprising abili ties, and the tears and agonies of his afflicted parents and friends. We may venture to say, there has seldom been committed a greater outrage on the feelings of justice and humanity. His guilt is more than doubtful. Indeed, the

* See page 136, London ed. 1769.

only evidence we have that he committed the crime at all, is the sentence of the court; and though no open bribery was there proved, yet when we consider the defenceless condition of the boy, the uncertainty of the law, and the chicanery of the lawyers, together with the strength of the popular odium, there can scarcely remain a doubt on the reader's mind, that this unhappy youth died to appease those passions which demand an atonement, but are careless to find the right victim.'

Yet this book, with all the talents and malignity with which it is written, may be made one of the most harmless volumes that was ever delivered by hoary wisdom into the hands of unsuspecting youth. The bubbles of Hume's history vanish at a touch; and a single note, at the bottom of a page, might blow them into the air of which they were originally made.

Thus, when he makes us pity the innocent Mary, weeping before the brutal Knox, it is only necessary to state a few facts of which that innocence was composed, (facts of the historian's own concession,) and the scene may safely be left to speak for itself. The tears of a beautiful young queen, are of great account, no doubt, in romance and tragedy. But when we remember that a woman's tears are sometimes her most effectual weapons ; that Mary was a papist, and in league with her uncles, the Guises, the most determined papists Europe ever saw, in a plot actually to put down the protestants; that they even went so far as to think of dethroning Elizabeth ; that power, and wealth, and treachery, and arms, are on one side, and that a solitary and intrepid spirit, in the form of a Christian minister, stands on the other—the griefs of Mary, though a youthful queen, will not be thought very pathetic, except by those who have chivalry enough to place the tears of a woman above the destinies of mankind. How potent is truth, when the sophistry of Hume only serves at last more clearly to reveal it !



The ingenuity of men in the invention of penal tortures, has well nigh equalled their ingenuity in the invention of crime. They have seemed to think, that the more terrific and revolting a chastisement is, so much the stronger will be the reluctance to incur it. In this they have forgotten that certainty, rather than severity of retribution, deters from sin ; and that any apparent savageness in the penal code, instead of repressing insubordination, excites to it. The spectacle of a barbarous punishment blunts the sensibility of the observer, annihilates his pliableness to moral consideration, removes sympathy from the side of justice to that of an injured criminal, inflames the recreant spirit to a fearlessness of all milder penalties, and a willingness to hazard such as, though terrific, are yet uncertain and are apt, whenever inflicted, to gain flattering commiseration. The history, then, of punishment on the cross, as it detects the secret efficacy of all punishment, commends itself to the notice of all who are interested in legislating. For a different reason, it commends itself to Christians. This was the punishment inflicted on their Master. In enduring its agonies, consisted partly his atonement. If they wish to learn the cost of the atonement, they will wish to meditate on the extent of those agonies.

It has long been a point in debate, whether the Jews ever adopted this punishment, before their subjection to Rome. I. Casaubon, J. Scaliger, D. H. Muller, J. M. Dilherr, and others, have strenuously contended that they never did ; and to support the negative of the question, have relied principally on two arguments, which may now be noticed.

The first argument is derived from the Hebrew language. This contains no word, denoting specifically either crucifixion or the cross; and the Rabbins, when desiring to specify either, are compelled to use a circumlocution. But what if the language has no word appropriate, in its original meaning, to the cross, or the punishment upon it? It has many general terms, which were used secondarily with this particular import. Thus the word yy “a tree," "wood,”

staketrues theorted and", " the Timmade to a

may as well have been applied to the cross, as the Latin “ lignum," "arbor," or the Greek - Fúdov," which were frequently applied so.* The verb yb, “ to be wrenched," dislocated,etc. may be easily made to denote crucifixion, because, says Schindler, “ the limbs of those who are crucified are distorted and wrenched.” Gesenius accordingly construes the Hiphil of this word, “ to suspend upon a stake,and the Jewish Targum translates the plural of it in 2 Sam. xxi. 6, “we will crucify.So the verb 750, “ to hang," may, especially when united with ryn Sv, “ upon the wood,denote to crucify, as well as the majority of Greek and Latin words, denoting the same. Gesenius assigns this meaning to it, in Gen. xl. 22; Deut. xxi. 23.

The second argument is derived from Jewish testimony. The Rabbins assert, that four kinds of capital punishment were used by their nation—" stoning, burning, the application of the sword, and strangling." They describe the mode of strangling, and show that it was performed without the use of wood, and without any suspension of the body. On this point, however, the Rabbins give us witness against witness; for the Targum, Ruth ch. i. v. 17, substitutes for strangling, as the fourth punishment, an altogether distinct one, “the suspension on wood." In reference to this suspension, the Codex Sanhedrim asserts, “ the custom has never obtained in Israel, to fix nails in the feet or hands of the men who are hung; they are hung with their hands bound to the wood.” But to this assertion it may be replied, first, in the words of Clozius, lib. i. p. 256, “ the Jews did not always use nails in suspension, sometimes only cords ;" secondly, after the time of Constantine, cords alone were used, and some expressions in the Targum doubtless refer to the punishment as it was then modified ; thirdly, some of the Jewish writers, anxious to invalidate the proof of the Saviour's passion, were equally anxious to prove, that their countrymen so abhorred the punishment which he is pretended to have borne, as to prevent their ever being accessary to it; and this anxiety to establish a favorite dogma, as it would have driven all men, so above all, it drove the Jews to many extravagant and incredible statements.

* See the Vulgate translation, and the original Greek of Acts v. 30; x. 39; xiii. 29; Gal. iii. 13; 1 Pet. ii. 24. VOL. I.


« السابقةمتابعة »