« AnteriorContinua »
and vice, of a good or a bad citizen, change with the revolution of ages ; not in proportion to the alteration of circumstances, and consequently conformable to the common good ; but in proportion so the passions and errors by which the different law-givers were fucceffively influenced. He will frequently observe, that the passions and vices of one age are the foundation of the morality of the following; that violent patlions, the offspring of fanaticism and enthusialın, being weakened by time, which reduces all the phenomena of the natural and moral world to an equality, become by degrees the prudence of the age, and an useful instrument in the hands of the powerful or artful politician. Hence the uncertainty of our notions of honour and virtue; an uncertainty which will ever remain, because they change with the revolutions of time, and names survive the things they originally signified; they change with the boundaries of states, which are often the same both in physical and moral geography. Pleasure and pain are the only springs of action in beings endowed with sensibility. Even amongit the motives which excite men to acts of religion, the invisible Legilator has ordained rewards and punishments. From a partial distribution of these, will-arile that contradiction, so little observed, because so common; I mean that of punishing by the laws, the crimes which the laws have occafioned. If an equal punishment be ordained for two crines thaí injure society in different degrees, there is nothing to deter men from committing the greater, as often as it is at: tended with greater advantage.'—-And yet the wife legislators of this kingdom have thought fit to inflict the fame punishment on him who robs me of a farthing, and the villain who murders his nearest relation, or greatest benefaclor!
in 'chap. 7. our author proves, “ that crimes are only to be measured by the injury done to fociety, and not by the inten.' tion of the perfon by whom it is committed, nor by the dignity of the person offended, nor yet by the degree of fin. If, says he, God hath decreed eternal punishinent for those who disobey his will, shall an insect dare to put himself in the place of Divine justice, or pretend to punish for the Almighty, who is himself all-fufficient? - The degree of sin depends on the malignity of the heart, which is impenetrable to finite beings.'
If this reasoning be juít, what shall we say of those daring religionists, who prefume to punish men, not because they have injured society, but because they have offended God?
In chap. 8. in which the marquis treats of the division of crimes, we find the following itriking paragraph. • The opinion, says he, that every member of society has a right to do any thing that is not contrary to the laws, without fearing any
other inconveniencies than thofe which are the natural conse
Chap. 16. of toriure, is a very excellent one, and abundantly fufficient to convince those who still continue it, of their error; but as it is happily abolished in this nation, we fhall pass it by.
In chap. 19. we find the following powerful argument against our constant practice of transportation, in doing which we seem to confider nothing farther than the peopling our colonies. • Crimes, fays our author, of less importance are commonly punished either in the obfcurity of a prison, or the criminal is transported, to give, by his slavery, an example to societies which he never offended : an example absolutely ufeless, because distant from the place where the crime was committed.'
Speaking of crimes of difficult proof, 'Adultery, says the marquis, is a criine which, politically considered, owes its existence to two causes, viz. pernicious Jaws, and the powerful attraction between the sexes. This attraction is similar in many circumstances to gravity, the spring of motion in the universe. Like this, it is diminished by distance; one regulates the motions of the body, the other of the foul. But they differ in one respect; the force of gravity decreases in proportion to the obstacles that oppofe it; the other gathers strength and vigour as the obstacles increase. If I were speaking to nations guided only by the laws of nature, I would tell them, that there is a considerable difference between adultery and all other crimes.. Adultery proceeds from an abufe of that neceflity, which is conftant and universal in human nature; a neceffity anterior to the formation of fociety, and indeed the founder of fociety itself; whereas all other crimes tend to the destruction of fo
ciety, and arise from momentary, pafsions, and not from a natural neceflity. It is the opinion of those who have studied history and mankind, that this neceflity is constantly in the fame degree in the same climate. If this be true, useless, or rather pernicious must all laws and customs be, which tend to diminish the sum total of the effects of this paflion. Such laws would only burthen one part of fociety with the additional necessities of the other ; but on the contrary, wife are the laws, which, following the natural course of the river, divide the ffream into a number of equal branches, preventing thus both Herility and inundation. Conjugal fidelity is always greater in proportion as marriages are more numerous and less difficult. But when the interest or pride of families, or paternal autherity, not the inclination of the parties, unite the fexes, gallantry foon breaks the fender ties, in spite of common moralists, who exclaim against the effect whilft they pardon the cause. But these reflections are useless to those, who, living in the true religion, act from fublimer motives, which correct the eternal laws of nature.' This is a bold stroke at those who pretend that religion was intended to counteract the laws of nature, or, in other words, of Providence, or of God.
In the same chapter, · The murder of bastard children, lays he, is, in like manner, the effect of a cruel dilemma in which a woman finds herself, who has been feduced through weakness or overcome by force. The alternative is, either her own infamy, or the death of a being who is incapable of feeling the lofs of life. How can fhe avoid preferring the laft to the inevitable misery of herself and her unhappy infant ? The best method of preventing this crime would be, effectually to protect the weak woman from that tyranny which exaggerates all vices chat cannot be concealed under the cloak of virtue.'
We Thall pass over the remainder of this essay in order to give our readers a few extracts from the counmentary attributed to M. de Voltaire. We cannot proceed, however, without first expressing our approbation of the word attributed in the title, which is a proof of honesty highly commendable, and rarely practised. There are few tranflators who would not so far have availed themselves of common report, as to omit the word atıributed, especially as common report is the only authority we have for many of Mr. Voltaire's pieces, and more particularly, as this commentary bears very strong marks of the style and manner of that author : aş for example, in his chapter On she punisoment of hereticks.
• Maximus, says he, having caused the emperor Gratian, the colleague of Theodofius, to be affaffinated at Lions, meditated the deftruction of Valentinian the second, who, during his
infancy, iiod been named fucceffor to Gratian. He affembled at Treves a powerful army, composed of Gauls and Germans. He caused troops to be levied in Spain, when two Spanish bishops, Idacio and Ithacus, or Itacius, both men of credit, came and demanded of him the blood of Priscilian and all his adherents, who were of opinion, that fouls were emanations' from God; that the Trinity did not contain three hypoftafes ; and moreover they carried their facrilege fo far as to fast on Sundays. Maximus, half Pagan and half Chriftian, foon perceived the enormity of these crimes. The holy bishops, Idacio and Itacius, obtained leave to torture Priscilian and his accom. plices before they were puť to death. They were both present, that things might be done according to order, and they returned, blefling God, and numbering Maximus, the defender of the faith, arr.ong the saints. But Maxinlus being afterwards defeated by Theodosius, and assassinated at the feet of his conqueror, had not the good fortune to be canonized.
• As to Priscilian, he had the consolation, after he was hanged, of being horoured by his sect as a martyr
His feast was celebrated, and would be celebrated still, if there were any Priscilianists remaining
• This example made the entire church tremble; but it was foon after imitated and surpassed, Priscilianists had been put to death by the sword, the halter, and by lapidation. A young Hady of quality, suspected to have fasted on a Sunday, was, at Bourdeaux, only stoned to death. These punishinents appeared too mild; it was proved that God required that hereticks thould be roasted alive. The peremptory argument, in support of this opinion, was, that God punishes them in that manner in the next world, and that every prince, or his reprefentative, even down to a petty constable, is the image of God in this sublunary world.'
After reading the above quotation, such of our readers as are well acquainted with Mr. Voltaire's extraordinary talents for ridicule on these fübjects, will hardly doubt that this commentary is the produce of his pen. Among many extraordi. nary anecdotes related in this piece the following is not the leaft remarkable. It makes part of the chapter under this title, viz. On the crime of preaching, and of Anthony.
• The history of Anthony, says the author, is one of the most singular which the annals of phrensy hath preserved. I read the following account in a very curious manuscript; it is in part related by Jacob Spon. Anthony was born at Brieu in Lorrain, of catholic parents, and he was educated by the Jesuits at Pont-a-Mouffon. The preacher Féri engaged him in the protestants religion at Metz. Having returned to Nancy,
he was prosecuted as a heretick, and, had he not been saved by a friend, would certainly have been hanged. He fled for refuge to Sedan, where, being taken for a papist, he narrowly escaped aflaflination.
• Seeing by what strange fatality his life was not in safety either among papists or protestants, he went to Venice and turned Jew. He was positively persuaded, even to the last moinents of his life, that the religion of the Jews was the only true religion; for that if it was once true it must always be so. The Jews did not circumcise him, for fear of offending the stare; but he was no less internally a Jew. He now went to Geneva, where, concealing his faith, he became a preacher, was president of the college, and finally what is called a mis nister.
• The perpetual combat in his breast between the religion of Calvin, which he was obliged to preach, and that of Moses, which was the only religion he believed, produced a long illness. He became melancholy, and at last quite mad, crying aloud that he was a Jew. The ministers of the gospel came to visit him, and endeavoured to bring him to himself; but he answered, that he adored none but the God of Israel ; that it was impossible for God to change; that God could ne. ver have given a law, and inscribed it with his own hand, with an intention that it should be abolished. He spoke against Christianity, and afterwards retracted all he had said, and even wrote his confession of faith to escape punishment; but the unhappy persuasion of his heart would not permit him to sign it. The council of the city assembled the clergy to consult what was to be done with the unfortunate Anthony. The minority of these clergy were of opinion, that they should have compaffion on him, and rather endeavour to cure his difcafe than punish him. The majority determined that he fhould be burnt, and he was burnt. This transaction is of the year 1632. A hundred years of reason and virtue are scarce sufficient to expiate such a deed!
These few extracts, we presume, will be sufficient to give the reader an idea of the entertainment he may expect in the perusal of this performance, which we recommend as being. one of the most original books which the present age hath produced. As to the translation, we have compared it with the Italian, and find it not only just, but, in many places, superior to the original in point of perspicuity. This teftimony we think due to the translator, especially as it is fo seldom in our power to speak thus favourably of translations from foreign books.
VOL. XXIII. April, 1767.