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for sale almost exclusively by foreigners. Such are the salutary effects of a free press, and the generous habit of action imbibed from the blessed air of law and liberty, even by men who neither understand the principle, nor feel the sentiment, of the dignified purity, to which they yield obeisance from the instinct of character. As there is a national guilt which can be charged but gently on each individual, so are there national virtues, which can as little be imputed to the individuals,—nowhere, however, but in countries where liberty is the presiding influence, the universal medium and menstruum of all other excellence, moral and intellectual. Admirably doth the admirable Petrarch admonish us :
Nec sibi vero quisquam falso persuadeat, eos qui pro libertate excubant, atque hactenus desertæ reipublicæ partes suscipiunt, alienum agere negotium ; suum agunt. In hac una reposita sibi omnia norint omnes, securitatem mercator, gloriam miles, utilitatem agricola. Postremo, in eadem religiosi cærimonias, otium studiosi, requiem senes, rudimenta disciplinarum pueri, nuptias puellæ, pudicitiam matrona, gaudium omnes invenient. * * * * Huic uni reliquæ, cedant cura! Si hanc omittitis, in quantalibet occupatione nihil agitis : si huic incumbitis, etsi nihil agere videmini, cumulate tamen et civium et virorum implevistis officia.*
Nor let any one falsely persuade himself, that those who keep. watch and ward for liberty, are meddling with things that do not concern them, instead of minding their own business. For all men should know, that all blessings are stored and protected in this one, as in a common repository. Here is the tradesman's security, the soldier's honor, the agriculturist's profit. Lastly, in this one good of liberty the religious will find the permission of their rites and forms of worship, the students their learned leisure, the aged their repose, boys the rudiments of the several branches of their education, maidens their chaste nuptials, matrons their womanly honor and the dignity of their modesty, fathers of families the dues of natural affection and the sacred privileges of their ancient home, every one their hope and their joy. To this one
* Petrarch. Epist. 45, ad Nicolaum tribunum urbis almæ novissimum et ad populum Romanum. The translation contains clauses referring to expressions, which in the second edition, were inserted in the Latin quotation by Mr. C. himself.--Ed.
solicitude, therefore, let all other cares yield the priority. If you omit this, be occupied as much and sedulously as you may, you are doing nothing : If you apply your heart and strength to this, though you seem to be doing nothing, you will, nevertheless, have been fulfilling the duties of citizens and of men, yea, in a measure pressed down and running over.
I quote Petrarch often in the hope of drawing the attention of scholars to his inestimable Latin writings. Let' me add, in the wish likewise of recommending to the London publishers a translation of select passages from his treatises and letters. If I except the German writings and original letters of the heroic Luther, I do not remember a work from which so delightful and instructive a volume might be compiled.
To give the true bent to the above extract, it is necessary to bear in mind, that he who keeps watch and ward for freedom, has to guard against two enemies, the despotism of the few and the despotism of the many—but especially in the present day against the sycophants of the populace.
License they mean, when they cry liberty !
ESSAY XI. .
Nemo vero fallatur, quasi minora sint animorum contagia quam corporum. Majora sunt; gravius lædunt ; altius descendunt, serpuntque latentius.
PETRARCH. De Vit. Solit. L. 1. tract. 3. C. 4.
And let no man be deceived as if the contagions of the soul were less than those of the body. They are yet greater ; they convey more direful diseases; they sink deeper, and creep on more unsuspectedly.
We have abundant reason then to infer, that the law of England has done well and concluded wisely in proceeding on the principle so clearly worded by Milton : “that a book should be as freely admitted into the world as any other birth ; and if it prove a monster, who denies but that it may justly be burnt or sunk into the sea ?” We have reason then, I repeat, to rest satisfied with our laws, which no more prevent a book from coming into the world unlicensed, lest it should prove a libel, than a traveller from passing unquestioned through our turnpike-gates, because it is possible he may be a highwayman. Innocence is presumed in both cases. The publication is a part of the offence, and its necessary condition. Words are moral acts, and words deliberately made public the law considers in the same light as any other cognizable overt act.
Here, however, a difficulty presents itself. Theft, robbery, murder, and the like, are easily defined : the degrees and circumstances likewise of these and similar actions are definite, and constitute specific offences, described and punishable each under its own name. We have only to prove the fact and identify the offender. The intention too, in the great majority of cases, is so clearly implied in the action, that the law can safely adopt it as its universal maxim, that the proof of the malice is included in the proof of the fact; especially as the few occasional exceptions have their remedy provided in the prerogative of pardon intrusted to the supreme magistrate. But in the case of libel, the degree makes the kind, the circumstances constitute the criminality; and both degrees and circumstances, like the ascending shades of color or the shooting hues of a dove's neck, die away into each other, incapable of definition or outline. The eye of the understanding, indeed, sees the determinate difference in each individual case, but language is most often inadequate to express what the eye perceives, much less can a general statute anticipate and pre-define it. Again : in other overt acts a charge disproved leaves the accused either guilty of a different fault, or at best simply blameless. A man having killed a fellow-citizen is acquitted of murder ;-the act was manslaughter only, or it was justifiable homicide. But when we reverse the iniquitous sentence passed on Algernon Sidney, during our perusal of his work on government; at the moment we deny it to have been a traitorous libel, our beating hearts declare it to have been a benefaction to our country, and under the circumstances of those times the performance of an heroic duty. From this cause, therefore, as well as from a libel's being a thing made of degrees and circumstances,—and these too, discriminating offence from merit by such dim and ambulant boundaries, the intention of the agent, wherever it can be independently or inclusively ascertained, must be allowed a great share in determining the character of the action, unless the law is not only to be divorced from moral justice, but to wage open hostility against it.*
* According to the old adage: you are not hanged for stealing a horse,
Add too, that laws in doubtful points are to be interpreted according to the design of the legislator, where this can be certainly inferred. But the laws of England, which owe their own present supremacy and absoluteness to the good sense and generous dispositions diffused by the press more, far more, than to any other single cause, must needs be presumed favorable to its general influence. Even in the penalties attached to its abuse, we must suppose the legislature to have been actuated by the desire of preserving its essential privileges. The press is indifferently the passive instrument of evil and of good : nay, there is some good even in its evil. “Good and evil we know,” says Milton, in the Speech from which I have selected the motto of the preceding essay, “in the field of this world, grow up together almost inseparably : and the knowledge of good is so involved and interwoven with the knowledge of evil, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discerned, that those confused seeds which were imposed on Psyche as an incessant labor to cull out and sort asunder, were not more intermixed.' As, therefore, the state of man now is, what wisdom can there be to choose, what continence to forbear, without the knowledge of evil ? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true way-faring Christian. I can not praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary.”—“That virtue, therefore, which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure.”—“ Since, therefore, the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely and with less danger scout into the regions of sin and falsity, than by reading all manner of tractates, and hearing all manner of reason ?”—Again—but, indeed the whole treatise is one strain of moral wisdom and political prudence :“Why should we then affect a rigor contrary to the manner of God and of nature, by abridging or scanting those means, which books, freely permitted, are both to the trial of virtue and the but that horses may not be stolen. To what extent this is true, I shall have occasion to examine hereafter.
exercise of truth? It would be better done to learn, that the law must needs be frivolous, which goes to restrain things uncertainly, and yet equally, working to good and to evil. And were I the chooser, a dram of well-doing should be preferred before many times as much the forcible hindrance of evil-doing. For God, sure, esteems the growth and completion of one virtuous person, more than the restraint of ten vicious."
The evidence of history is strong in favor of the same principles, even in respect of their expediency. The average result of the press from Henry VIII. to Charles I. was such a diffusion of religious light as first redeemed and afterwards saved this nation from the spiritual and moral death of Popery; and in the following period it is to the press that we owe the gradual ascendency of those wise political maxims, which casting philo sophic truth in the moulds of national laws, customs, and existing orders of society, subverted the tyranny without suspending the government, and at length completed the mild and salutary revolution by the establishment of the house of Brunswick. To what must we attribute this vast over-balance of good in the general effects of the press, but to the over-balance of virtuous intention in those who employed the press ? The law, therefore, will not refuse to manifest good intention a certain weight even in cases of apparent error, lest & should discourage and scare away those, to whose efforts we owe the comparative infrequency and weakness of error on the whole. The law may, however, nay, it must demand, that the external proofs of the author's honest intentions should be supported by the general style and matter of his work, and by the circumstances and mode of its publication. A passage, which in a grave and regular disquisition would be blameless, might become highly libellous and justly punishable if it were applied to present measures or persons for immediate purposes, in a cheap and popular tract. I have seldom felt greater indignation than at finding in a large manufactory a sixpenny pamphlet, containing a selection of inflammatory paragraphs from the prose-writings of Milton, without a hint given of the time, occasion, state of government, and other circumstances under which they were written—not a hint, that the freedom which we now enjoy, exceeds all that Milton dared hope for, or deemed practicable; and that his political creed sternly excluded the populace, and indeed the majority of