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impossible? Is the general discouragement of a dishonest one, by all honest men of all parties, a dream out of Utopia ?
Cobbett, in his day, was the most distinguished writer in this department. He was equally successful in raising its intellectual, and lowering its moral reputation. In his own case, he became a warning (of what writers who are to appear constantly before the public cannot be too constantly reminded), that there is a want of principle for which no degree of talent and assurance can make up. He did all he could to establish against his contemporaries a partnership in this disgrace. One of his favourite topics was abusing the London press. We remember his once suggesting a novel kind of censorship, which was to consist in setting out the editors in a line in Hyde Park, in order that their comparative merits and general title to consideration might be determined upon view. The sheer, in proportion to its probability of truth with respect to the parties principally concerned in it, is a much severer satire on the folly of the public. Gross misconduct on the part of the public, in leaving the class in question in what is called a false position, can alone bave given a plausible handle to such a jest. No large body of men can be wisely lest so. This is true of every kind of occupation, and of every kind of talent unworthily degraded. But the stronger the temptations which are to be withstood by any class, the greater the dependence of society upon their honour and discretion, the more visible their power--the higher of course ought to be their personal reputation; and the inore liberal the terms on which society should endeavour to secure their loyal fidelity to its interests. The profession of letters deserves in this respect a more careful superintendence and judicious encouragement, than professions which are employed upon matters of taste and amusement only. It is among the surest ways by which writers of the required character, and of a suitable station and attainment, can be attracted to it. Yet it was not the least of Garrick's merits that he succeeded in withdrawing performers on the stage from their old statutory classification among rogues and vagabonds; and that he made the first circles in London seek the company of a player as an honour. The English public have benefited as much as English artists by the gracious welcome in sociely which the arts first received there in the person of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Among the labourers in the literary vineyard, there are none whom, as a class, it is more desirable 10 raise, by due sympathy and favour, from the obscurity and discontent of a lile of neglected literary adventure, than those who devote their talents to the service of the public press. Good feeling and good policy are equally violated by an opposite two Houses of Parliament joined in a resolution for completely digesting the Statutes ; the Lords having declared the expediency of employing one learned person with twenty assistants in that work. The Commissioners, besides giving an elaborate and interesting statement of the inconveniences attending the want of a complete digest, have examined practical lawyers on the subject; and they have likewise given the evidence of an eminent American lawyer, with some documentary evidence showing the progress made in this work by the United States, and the benefits which have resulted from it. The Digest of the Criminal Law, in which the Commissioners are themselves engaged, is stated to be in considerable forwardness, and to contain not merely the definition of offences, but the whole Law of Criminal proceedings.
We have adverted to the Nine Bills already introduced by the Government upon the Reports of the Commissioners, and which, it is probable, will have been passed into laws before tbese pages see the light. Into the particulars of these bills it is not our purpose now to enter, further than is necessary for giving the outline of the change which they are intended to make upon the Criminal Law. The opinion of the Commissioners (as stated in the Second Report, p. 32) is, that capital punishment ought (subject to the exercise of the Royal prerogative) to follow conviction of a capital offence--and therefore they have recommended a large reduction of the number of these offences; and have given a full classification of them, and of the other offences not to be made capital, and of the various punishments to be inflicted for these. But it is of course for the Government and the Legislature to determine whether or not the number of capital offences shall be still further reduced. The Commissioners could pronounce no opinion in favour of retaining so many; and when it is considered that the main object in diminishing their number at all is to introduce certainty into the criminal code—that the principal argument for the proposed change is the expediency of making the denunciation of punishment real, and no longer a mere name-there is no wonder that the greatest anxiety should be felt lest the result of these measures may be to increase the number of instances in which death is actually inflicted upon offenders. This consideration it is which we earnestly press upon the attention both of the Legislature, of the Judges, and of the advisers of the Crown ; feeling that such a consequence is inevitable, if it shall be understood that, after the alteration is effected, the punishment must be inflicted in each case of conviction; and yet aware that unless such a fatal certainty is the result, the alteration will only have diminished in degree the evil which
bas done as much as was, perhaps, practicably advisable, with the least prospect of success, in the attempt to give a permanent interest to temporary subjects,-in the presumption that he was always addressing readers of accomplishment and taste,—and in the resolution to have no distinction between his public and private character, but to make them and keep them one. By these means he has kept his pages clear of the brigand airs of a literary adventurer; and has stamped upon his professional life the impress of personal rectitude and spirit. It is clear that but small circle could be expected to unite the necessary qualifications for admiring such a writer, as he deserves. But Mr Fonblanque did not wait, on that account, till a higher standard of public morals, or a more extended cultivation of political and literary enquiries had raised for him a class of readers. Still less did he condescend to lower his principles or his style. He has gone on writing in advance; and venturing as far as an author in this department can rationally venture in the nice experiment of forming by degrees a little public of his own. We have heard of a Cambridge under-graduate who apologized for the defects of his prize-poem by observing, that he had written it for the prize. We make no question but that the circulation of the Examiner would at the present moment have been much greater, in case Mr Fonblanque could have brought himself to pander to mere prejudices, and to write with less delicacy and finish. The invidious name of Trimmer' (which he himself has at times too wantonly affixed to more cautious politicians) has not deterred him from now discharging what he considered to be his duty by the public; and he has lately, with his usual manliness and candour, given Lord Melbourne's Government all the credit to which he has thought it to be entitled, -relying on his superiority to the insinuations which extravagant zealots are always so free to lavish, and honourably indifferent to the crafty policy of coarser rivals.
The particular point of view in which we have been looking at Mr Fonblanque's political essays, is quite independent of their general excellences or defects as compositions. He has done much to redeem newspapers from the charge of vulgarizing our language. The writing is admirable as writing-always elegant and polished. We do not wonder that Mr Savage Landor places him higher than at the head of his contemporaries. His style is as clear as Swift's, and sometimes as graceful as Addison's, whilst it is more figurative in expression, and much richer in anecdote and allusion. The only fault is, that, for the sake of a tricksy word, he is sometimes tempted to defy the matter. He is too often seen leaving the main body of the argument to shift for
itself, whilst he is running a metaphor or a story out of breath for his amusement. We have met with little or no philosophy in moral or legislation scattered over his pages but what is transferred bodily and in the gross from Bentham. If Bacon is occasionally quoted, it is just as plays and farces are-by way of illustration. Indeed such a happy and continuous application was never before made of the literature of half-price at Drury Lane to serious subjects. The old despotism of France was said to be tempered by epigrams. Mr Fonblanque might expect that the empire of Radicalism was to be established by means of stories. The reasoning faculty here exhibited, is, as it appears to us, more mathematical and logical than philosophical." The power of vision is direct rather than broad : excellent in following out the deductions of a single line-failing if other segments of the circle are to be embraced, and their radii brought down and applied to the common centre. Wherever the question was to depend upon one point only, we should feel it to be almost a certainty that Mr Fonblanque would be right; where it depended on more than one, we should begin to feel doubtful; where it depended on many, we apprehend the probabilities are in favour of his being wrong. We are disposed to place to the same account, another defect, of which his adversaries have too frequent reason to complain. It is a sophism which, in morals and politics, can lead only to error, to take an extreme case, and to proceed dropping from out of the argument all the conditions, compromises, and degrees by which it would have been limited and guarded in your adversary's hand. In assigning to Mr Fonblanque his literary rank, we should class him among the men of wit, rather than among the masters of eloquence. He charms us by his talents, but does not rouse us by his energy or feeling. He presents us with the surface of a bright and lively sea, not with the swell of a mighty ocean. We never feel that it is one deep calling to another.
The principal question which we have been examining has little or nothing to do with the correctness of the peculiar articles of faith held by Mr Fonblanque, and other members of his Communion. We will not conclude, however, without observing, that, as political reasoners, they have, in our opinion, far too little confidence in the present British constitution. But most of all are we convinced, that as political observers, they grievously underrate the opposition which the people of England (reckoned according to any possible form of franchise) would as yet offer to speculative reconstructions of the House of Lords. We say as yet. For the fate of the House of Lords will not depend upon lectures on the principles of human nature, or upon metaphors from mechanics. It will depend entirely on the nature and extent of its differences with the more popular assembly. The differences may, in their causes and in their limits, be of the very kind in which Paley, in his observation upon the House of Lords, recognises the principal use of such an institution. In this case, the Peers are safe. On the other hand, the differences may go the length of implying that the Sabbath was not made for man, but man for the Sabbath. In this case, the Peers are ruined. We shall see. In the mean-time, this is a problem not to be settled by the result of a single question, or on the evidence of a single year.
Of the points connected with the elective franchise, the ballot is that which Mr Fonblanque has mainly laboured. Both sides, we think, attach a great deal too much importance to it-the one, in what they apprehend; the other, in what they expect. We are far from being satisfied that the ballot would attain its immediate object-concealment. We see still less reason for presuming that concealment is the most appropriate security that an elector will be influenced by no other consideration than the merits of the candidate. A legislator, before he adopts machinery of this description, owes it to common sense to ascertain that the means are adequate to the end. In the next place, suppose the efficiency of the ballot to be made out on better grounds than we yet have ever seen, it is allowed that there are some indirect advantages on the side of open voting. It remains to be shown that its direct disadvantages are so preponderating as to render them comparatively of less account. The direct disadvantages of the present system are represented by the amount of undue temptation, in the shape of fear or favour, prevailing under it; and which the argument supposes the ballot would remove. Instances of intimidation and corruption are revolting to all men of humanity and spirit, whose political morality has not been debauched by bad example. The first impulse in this case, as in that of the pension list, is to set about abating it on any terms. It requires an effort to look farther. The partial popularity of the ballot is honourably accounted for. Ardent men, indignant at abuses, are ready to accept any measure of plausible protection against tyranny and vice. They do not wait to examine very strictly how far the measure is likely to be successful; or to care to strike a balance between the public inconveniences which it promises to obviate, and the public inconveniences which it may introduce.
The political independence which we long to procure for an elector, is something different from being made independent of public opinion, and of the other moral influences of which publicity is one of the strongest guarantees. The end itself is as dear