« ForrigeFortsæt »
dite. For what is there which a wicked man blinded by his passions may not, and which a madman will not, misunderstand? It is ridiculous to frame rules of morality with a view to those who are fit objects only for the physician or the magistrate.
The question may be thus illustrated. At Florence there is an unfinished bust of Brutus, by Michel Angelo, under which a cardinal wrote the following distich :
Dum Bruti effigiem sculptor de marmore finxit,
İn mentem sceleris venit, et abstinuit.
As the sculptor was forming the effigy of Brutus in marble, he recollected his act of guilt and refrained.
An English nobleman, indignant at this inscription, wrote immediately under it the following:
Brutum effinxisset sculptor, sed mente recursat
Multa viri virtus; sistit et obstupuit.
The sculptor would have framed a Brutus, but the vast and manifold virtue of the man flashed upon his thought: he stopped and remained in astonished admiration.
Now which is the nobler and more moral sentiment, the Italian cardinal's, or the English nobleman's? The cardinal would appeal to the doctrine of general consequences, and pronounce the death of Cæsar a murder, and Brutus an assassin. For (he would say) if one man may be allowed to kill another because he thinks him a tyrant, religious or political frenzy may stamp the name of tyrant on the best of kings: regicide will be justified under the pretence of tyrannicide, and Brutus be quoted as authority for the Clements and Ravailliacs.* From kings it may pass to generals and statesmen, and from these to any man whom an enemy or enthusiast may pronounce unfit to live. Thus we may have a cobbler of Messina in every city, and bravos in our streets as common as in those of Naples, with the name of Brutus on their stilettos.
The Englishman would commence his answer by commenting on the words "because he thinks him a tyrant." No! he would reply, not because the patriot thinks him a tyrant; but because
* Jacques Clement, a monk, who stabbed Henry III. of France, and François Ravailliac, an attorney, the well-known assassin of Henry IV.-Ed
he knows him to be so, and knows likewise, that the vilest of his slaves can not deny the fact, that he has by violence raised himself above the laws of his country-because he knows that all good and wise men equally with himself abhor the fact. If there be no such state as that of being broad awake, or no means of distinguishing it when it exists; if because men sometimes dream that they are awake, it must follow that no man, when awake, can be sure that he is not dreaming; if because a hypochondriac is positive that his legs are cylinders of glass, all other men are to learn modesty, and cease to be certain that their legs are legs; what possible advantage can your criterion of general consequences possess over any other rule of direction? If no man can be sure that what he thinks a robber with a pistol at his breast demanding his purse, may not be a good friend inquiring after his health; or that a tyrant (the son of a cobbler perhaps, who at the head of a regiment of perjured traitors, has driven the representatives of his country out of the senate at the point of the bayonet, subverted the constitution which had trusted, enriched, and honored him, trampled on the laws which before God and man he had sworn to obey, and finally raised himself above all law) may not, in spite of his own and his neighbors' knowledge of the contrary, be a lawful king, who has received his power, however despotic it may be, from the kings his ancestors, who exercises no other power than what had been submitted to for centuries, and been acknowledged as the law of the country; on what ground can you possibly expect less fallibility, or a result more to be relied upon, in the same man's calculation of your general consequences? Would he, at least, find any difficulty in converting your criterion into an authority for his act? What should prevent a man, whose perceptions and judgments are so strangely distorted, from arguing, that nothing is more devoutly to be wished for, as a general consequence, than that every man, who by violence places himself above the laws of his country, should in all ages and nations be considered by mankind as placed by his own act out of the protection of law, and be treated by them as any other noxious wild beast would be? Do you think it necessary to try adders by a jury? Do you hesitate to shoot a mad dog, because it is not in your power to have him first tried and condemned at the Old Bailey? On the other hand, what consequence can be conceived more detestable, than one which
would set a bounty on the most enormous crime in human nature, and establish it as a law of religion and morality that the accomplishment of the most atrocious guilt invests the perpetrator with impunity, and renders his person forever sacred and inviolable? For madmen and enthusiasts what avail your moral criterions? But as to your Neapolitan bravos, if the act of Brutus who
In pity to the general wrong of Rome,
Slew his best lover for the good of Rome,
authorized by the laws of his country, in manifest opposition to all selfish interest, in the face of the senate, and instantly presenting himself and his cause first to that senate, and then to the assembled commons, by them to stand acquitted or condemned— if such an act as this, with all its vast outjutting circumstances of distinction, can be confounded by any mind, not frantic, with the crime of a cowardly skulking assassin who hires out his dagger for a few crowns to gratify a hatred not his own, or even with the deed of that man who makes a compromise between his revenge and his cowardice, and stabs in the dark the enemy whom he dared not meet in the open field, or summon before the laws of his country-what actions can be so different, that they may not be equally confounded? The ambushed soldier must not fire his musket, lest his example should be quoted by the villain who, to make sure of his booty, discharges his piece at the unsuspicious passenger from behind a hedge. The physician must not administer a solution of arsenic to the leprous, lest his example should be quoted by professional poisoners. If no distinction, full and satisfactory to the conscience and common sense of mankind be afforded by the detestation and horror excited in all men, (even in the meanest and most vicious, if they are not wholly monsters) by the act of the assassin, contrasted with the fervent admiration felt by the good and wise in all ages when they mention the name of Brutus; contrasted with the fact that the honor or disrespect with which that name was spoken of, became an historic criterion of a nobler or a base age; and if it is in vain that our own hearts answer to the question of the poet
Is there among the adamantine spheres,
Refulgent from the stroke of Cæsar's fate
When guilt brings down the thunder, call'd aloud
For lo! the tyrant prostrate on the dust
If, I say, all this be fallacious and insufficient, can we have any firmer reliance on a cold ideal calculation of imaginary general consequences, which, if they were general, could not be consequences at all: for they would be effects of the frenzy or frenzied wickedness, which alone could confound actions so utterly dissimilar? No! (would the ennobled descendant of our Russells or Sidneys conclude). No! calumnious bigot! never yet did a human being become an assassin from his own or the general admiration of the hero Brutus; but I dare not warrant, that villains might not be encouraged in their trade of secret murder, by finding their own guilt attributed to the Roman patriot, and might not conclude, that if Brutus be no better than an assassin, an assassin çan be no worse than Brutus.
I request that the preceding be not interpreted as my own judgment on tyrannicide. I think with Machiavel and with Spinosa, for many and weighty reasons assigned by those philosophers, that it is difficult to conceive a case, in which a good man would attempt tyrannicide, because it is difficult to conceive one, in which a wise man would recommend it. In a small state, included within the walls of a single city, and where the tyranny is maintained by foreign guards, it may be otherwise; but in a nation or empire it is perhaps inconceivable, that the circumstances which made a tyranny possible, should not likewise render the removal of a tyrant useless. The patriot's sword may cut off the Hydra's head; but he possesses no brand to stanch the active corruption of the body, which is sure to re-produce a suc
* Akenside. Pleasures of the Imagination, 2d ed. B. II. p. 361.—Ed.
I must now in a few words answer the objection to the former part of my argument (for to that part only the objection applies), namely, that the doctrine of general consequences was stated as the criterion of the action, not of the agent. I might answer, that the author himself had in some measure justified me in not noticing this distinction by holding forth the probability, that the Supreme Judge will proceed by the same rule. The agent may then safely be included in the action, if both here and hereafter the action only and its general consequences will be attended to. But my main ground of justification is, that the distinction itself is merely logical, not real and vital. The character of the agent is determined by his view of the action: and that system of morality is alone true and suited to human nature, which unites the intention and the motive, the warmth and the light, in one and the same act of mind. This alone is worthy to be called a moral principle. Such a principle may be extracted, though not without difficulty and danger, from the ore of the Stoic philosophy; but it is to be found unalloyed and entire in the Christian system, and is there called faith.*
THE following address was delivered at Bristol, in the month of February, 1795. The only omissions regard the names of persons; and I insert it here in support of the assertion made by me, in the beginning of Essay II. of this volume, and because this very address has been referred to in an infamous libel in proof of my former Jacobinism. Different as my present convictions are
* It may, perhaps, be not uninteresting to insert in this place a notwhich Mr. Coleridge wrote in his own copy of The Friend :
'This last paragraph falls off from all the preceding. The reasoning is just, but it is dimly stated,-not brought out, nor urged to the point Want of space was the original cause of this deficiency. The Friend ap pearing on stamped sheets, and the author having reached the sixteenth page in the treatment of the moral question, he was forced to compress the promised answer to the objection into the remainder of a single page ;-and in the attempt slurred it over.' 22d June, 1829.-Ed.