Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

tion, whether civil or military,--the vast establishments of land and of naval force by which the State is defended,,our foreign negotiations, intended to preserve peace with the world, our domestic arrangements, necessary to make the Government respected by the people, or our fiscal regulations, by which the expense of the whole is to be supported,—all shrink into nothing, when compared with the pure, and prompt, and cheap Administration of Justice throughout the community. I will indeed make no such comparison; I will not put in contrast things so inseparably connected; for all the establishments formed by our ancestors, and supported by their descendants, were invented and are chiefly maintained, in order that justice may be duly administered between man and man. And, in my mind, he was guilty of no error,-he was chargeable with no exaggeration,-he was betrayed by his fancy into no metaphor, who once said, that all we see about us, King, Lords, and Commons, the whole machinery of the State, all the apparatus of the system, and its varied workings, end in simply bringing twelve good men into a box. Such—the administration of justice-is the cause of the establishment of Government-such is the use of Government: it is this purpose which can alone justify restraints on natural liberty-it is this only which can excuse constant interference with the rights and the property of men.”—p. 4.

It is to be regarded, in all respects, as an event most highly fortunate, that a man holding so high a rank as Mr. Brougham, both in the legislature and in the law, should have spoken, and should have published, the memorable discourse which we have now before us. That the law should have remained during so many ages,-ages, too, of inquiry and knowledge,-to so great a degree not only inadequate to its ends, but directly opposed to its ends, is owing to a concurrence of causes, among which the authority of the members of the legislature, and of the legal profession, has not been the least considerable. Up to a very recent period they have combined,—with what credit likely to be allowed to their understanding and virtue, in the years that are approaching, we may already descry,—in the most vehement declarations of the perfection of our legal system, and the most vehement denouncements upon the head of any disaffected individual who presumed to allege, that there remained in it any the smallest room for improvement. With the apathetic part of mankind; and till lately on this subject all men were apathetic; with those who knew little, and were not careful to know much, the mere word of these authoritative classes bore in it the force of demonstration; and when this word was accompanied with all the signs of passion, of a virtuous admiration of that which was treated as the glory of the human understanding, and a prolific source of human felicity; with a fierce indignation against the man who showed an inclination to deface this mirror of excellence, and to Iessen by a vain attempt of improvement, the gratitude which was owed to it by those who partook of its blessings; the passions, always infectious, were caught together with the belief: the human mind was thenceforward barred against inquiry: error was hugged in the name of truth: and the rules of law were regarded in the same light as the laws of nature, not capable of being altered for the better, and, though sometimes producing evil as well as good, producing it by a necessity from which it was alto gether fruitless to attempt an escape.

For some time past, the human mind has been emancipating itself from these fetters; slowly at first; latterly, with a good deal of rapidity. At this critical juncture comes the display afforded by Mr. Brougham in parliament, and distributed in imperishable characters over the land. Proceeding, as it does, from the same place of authority with the baneful prejudice itself, and standing directly opposed to it, this Speech cannot fail to produce the most important effects. Authority is now met by authority, and reason may expect something like fair play. The name of Mr. Brougham, also, gives wings to his words. The representation which he has made of the law finds its way into every corner of the land; excites a curiosity in every breast; and puts words into the mouth of every man that can read. The very least that can be expected from this exposition of the state of the law, is the total removal of all that remains of the ludicrous superstition, which holds it as perfect; and then the road to its improvement is open and clear.

We think that Mr. Brougham has judged most wisely for his own glory in taking for his peculiar task the reform of the laws. The time is ripe, or, at any rate, is fast ripening, for this great forward movement in civilization—the optimization (if we may so express it) of law. And in this glorious career, Mr. Brougham is the man to take the lead. His station as a lawyer, and his rank in the legislature, give him peculiar advantages; and what motive is there by which he should be withheld ? He is evidently a man whom the objects of vulgar ambition cannot satisfy. The hoarding of exorbitant wealth, the holding of place, the acquisition of titles, are things which he plainly holds in secondary estimation. In truth he has not a taste but what can otherwise find a much higher gratification. Suppose him an ambitious man; suppose him a vain man; what can riches, or place, or title, add to the gratification which his ambition or his vanity can command without them; or rather, what compensation could they yield him for the gratification which he must forego, if these were his leading objects of pursuit? What comparison, in the present day, when public opinion is the pervading and powerful thing which we behold it, between the grandeur of the man who is identified with public opinion, and commands what that commands; and that of the man of office, who commands but the sordid creatures whom

money can buy, and who, with all the money which even the taxes of Great Britain can furnish for that ignoble end, can purchase but a small numerical part of the population, and that to - certainty the most worthless, and the least to be depended upon in the hour of need.

In the mode, too, in which Mr. Brougham has entered upon his mighty task, we think he has shown a superior judgment to those who have preceded him in the design of reforming the law. His views are more comprehensive. His courage serves him, not merely to attempt the removal of some single and minute defect, but to pronounce condemnation on the whole.

We have long thought that Sir Samuel Romilly erred, as well as Sir James Mackintosh, in this, that they reckoned upon leaving prejudice asleep, and not rousing the hostile attention of sinister interest, if they attempted only some atom of a reform. The least movement was enough to excite the vigilance of those who ignorantly, and those who selfishly, hated reform. Atomical reform, however, could have no effect upon the apathy of the public; and in a country where men in authority and power are, for reasons well known to themselves, the enemies of reform, reformers should be well aware that the interest felt by the people in what they attempt is the only source of their strength, and the only ground of their hope. The predecessors of Mr. Brougham threw away this advantage, without securing that which they expected. The effect may be already perceived of the better plan which he has pursued. Aware that it must be something of importance, which the people will account of importance, and about which they will be warmed as a thing of importance, he was careful to present to them an object of sufficient magnitude to occupy an ample space in their minds. Large bodies, according to the proverb, are not easily moved. The public is a large body, and he who desires to move it must provide himself with an adequate force. A petty advantage may catch the fancy of this man and another man, but it is only a solid and permanent good that will engage the steady ardour of a nation.

We must here remove an objection which we have heard raised to the approbation which appears to us to be due to the present exertion of Mr. Brougham in favour of a reform of the law. It is said that his remedies are by no means co-extensive with the wide field of evil, the boundaries of which he himself has traced; that when any one views the magnitude of his ends on the one side, and the aggregate of his means on the other, it is impossible not to remark, and to be surprised at the disproportion. The fact is so. The question is, whether any other course he could have chosen would have carried him farther on the road towards his end.

That he himself has an adequate conception of what is indispensable to the attainment of his object, appears to be clearly evinced by the paragraphs of his discourse, which we shall now present, and which peculiarly merit the attention of the reader, whether he is to be moved by the importance of the matter or the eloquence with which it is adorned.

" I must, however, once more press upon the attention of the House, the necessity of taking a general view of the whole system in whatever inquiries may be instituted. Partial legislation on such a subject is pregnant with mischief. Timid men, but still more blind than they are timid, recommend taking a single branch at a time, and imagine that they are consulting the safety of the mass. It is the very reverse of safe. In the body of the law all the members are closely connected; you cannot touch one without affecting the rest; and if your eye is confined to the one you deal with, you cannot tell what others may be injured and how. Even a manifest imperfection may not be removed without great risk, when it is not in some wholly insulated part; for it oftentimes happens that, by long use, a defect has given rise to some new arrangement extending far beyond itself, and not to be disturbed with impunity. The topical reformer, who confines his care to one flaw, may thus do as much injury as a surgeon who should set himself about violently reducing a luxation of long standing, where nature had partially remedied the evil by forming a false joint, or should cut away some visceral excrescence in which a new system of circulation and other action was going on. Depend upon it, the general reformation of such a mechanism as our law is not only the most effectual, but the only safe course. This, in truth, alone deserves the name of either a rational or a temperate reform.

“ In pursuing the course which I now invite you to enter upon, I avow that I look for the co-operation of the King's Government; and on what are my hopes founded ? Men gather not grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles. But that the vine should no longer yield its wonted fruit—that the fig tree should refuse its natural increase required a miracle to strike it with barrenness. There are those in the present Ministry, whose known liberal opinions have lately been proclaimed anew to the world, and pledges have been avouched for their influence upon the policy of the State. With them, others may not, upon all subjects, agree; upon this, I would fain hope there will be found little difference. But, be that as it may, whether I have the support of the Ministers or no-to the House I look with confident expectation, that it will controul them, and assist me; if I go too far, checking my progress-if too fast, abating my speed-but heartily and honestly helping me in the best and greatest work, which the hands of the lawgiver can undertake. The course is clear before us; the race is glorious to run. You have the power of sending your name down through all times, illustrated by deeds of higher fame, and more useful import, than ever were done within these walls. You saw the greatest warrior of the age--conqueror of Italy-humbler of Germany-terror of the Northsaw him account all his matchless victories poor, compared with the triumph you are now in a condition to win--saw him contemn the

fickleness of Fortune, while, in despite of her, he could pronounce his memorable boast, • I shall go down to posterity with the Code in my hand!' You have vanquished him in the field; strive now to rival him in the sacred arts of peace! Outstrip him as a lawgiver, whom in arms you overcame! The lustre of the Regency will be eclipsed by the more solid and enduring splendour of the Reign. The praise which false courtiers feigned for our Edwards and Harrys, the Justinians of their day, will be the just tribute of the wise and the good to that Monarch under whose sway so mighty an undertaking shall be accomplished. Of a truth, sceptres are most chiefly to be envied for that they bestow the power of thus conquering and ruling thus. It was the boast of Augustus—it formed part of the glare in which the perfidies of his earlier years were lost that he found Rome of brick, and left it of marble; a praise not unworthy a great prince, and to which the present reign has its claim also. But how much nobler will be our Sovereign's boast, when he shall have it to say, that he found law dear, and left it cheap; found it a sealed book-left it a living letter; found it the patrimony of the rich-left it the inheritance of the poor ; found it the two-edged sword of craft and oppression-left it the staff of honesty and shield of innocence! To me, much reflecting on these things, it has always seemed a worthier honour to be the instrument of making you bestir yourselves in this high matter, than to enjoy all that office can bestow-office, of which the patronage would be an irksome incumbrance, the emoluments superfluous to one content with the rest of his industrious fellow-citizens, that his own hands minister to his wants : And as for the power supposed to follow it-J have lived near half a century, and I have learned that power and place may

be severed. But one power I do prize : that of being the advocate of my countrymen here, and their fellow-labourer elsewhere, in those things which concern the best interests of mankind. That power, I know full well, no government can give—no change take away!"-p. 114-120.

If he who says that the object of ambition, even for a king, is to make law cheap where it is now dear; to make it a living letter where it is now a sealed book; to make it the inheritance of the poor, instead of being, as heretofore, the patrimony of the rich; finally, to make it the staff of honesty and the shield of innocence, instead of a two-edged sword in the hand of craft and oppression; if he, who thus describes the extent and magnitude of his object, is obliged to limit himself to the recommendation of means which come short of its attainment, what does it declare, but his opinion of the disposition towards reform of the assembly whom he was addressing, and through whom every thing which is to be accomplished must be done?

In trying to improve his chance of the legislature's doing something, by abstaining to propose to them what from its magnitude he might be sure they would not do, Mr. Brougham appears to us to have judiciously avoided the error which we have imputed to his predecessors. By a full and unreserved disclosure of the

« AnteriorContinua »