« PreviousContinue »
debt. Worse and worse commodities, at a higher and higher price, are forced upon him; he is inpoverished by compulsive traffic, and at last overwhelmed, in the common receptacles of misery, by debts which, without his own consent, were accumulated on his head. To the relief of this distress no other objection can be made, but that by an easy dissolution of debts, fraud will be left without punishment, and imprudence without awe, and that when insolvency shall be no longer punishable, credit will cease..
From the Idler,
IMPRISONMENT PRODUCTIVE OF DEPRAVITY IN
MORALS. The monastic institutions have been often blamed, as tending to retard the increase of mankind. And perhaps retirement ought rarely to be permitted, except to those whose employment is consistent with abstraction, and who, though solitary, will not be idle; to those whom infirmity makes useless to the commonwealth, or to those who have paid their due proportion to society, and who, having lived for others, may be honourably dismissed to live for themselves. But whatever be the evil or the folly of these retreats, those have no right to censure them whose prisons contain greater numbers than the monasteries of other countries. It is, surely, less foolish and less criminal to permit inaction than compel it; to comply with doubtful opinions of happiness, than condemn to certain and apparent misery; to indulge the
extravagances of erroneous piety, than to multiply and enforce temptations to wickedness.
The misery of gaols is not half their evil; they are filled with every corruption which poverty and wickedness can generate between them; with all the shameless and profligate enormities that can be produced by the impudence of ignominy, the rage of want, and the malignity of despair. In a prison the awe of the public eye is lost, and the power of the law is spent; there are few fears, there are no blushes. The lewd inflame the lewd, the audacious harden the audacious. Every one fortifies himself as he can against his own sensibility, endeavours to practise on others the arts which are practised on himself; and gains the kindness of liis associates by similitnde of manners.
Thus some sink amidst their misery, and others survive only to propagate villany. It may be hoped that our lawgivers will at length take away from us this power of starving and depraving one another: but, if there be any reason why this inveterate evil should not be removed in our age, which true policy has enlightened beyond any former time, let those, whose writings form the opinions and the practices of their contemporaries, endeavour to transfer the reproach of such imprisonment from the debtor to the creditor, till universal infamy shall pursue the wretch, whose wantonness of power, or revenge of disappoint. ment, condemns another to torture and to ruin; till he shall be hunted through the world as an enemy to man, and find in riches no shelter from contempt.
Surely, he whose debtor has perished in prison,
though he may acquit himself of deliberate murder, must at least have his mind clouded with discon. tent, when he considers how much another has suffered from him; when he thinks on the wife bewailing her husband, or the children begging the bread which their father would have earned. If there are any made so obdurate by avarice or cruelty, as to revolve these consequences without dread or pity, I must leave them to be awakened by some other power, for I write only to human beings.
From the Idler.
OF BRITISH JURIES. The method of trials by juries is generally looked upon as one of the most excellent branches of our constitution. In theory it certainly appears in that light. According to the original establishment, the jurors are to be men of competent fortunes in the neighbourhood; and are to be so avowedly indifferent between the parties concerned, that no reasonable exception can be made to them on either side. In treason the person accused has a rlght to challenge five-and-thirty, and in felony twenty, without showing cause of challenge. Nothing can be more equitable. No prisoner can desire a fairer field. But the misfortune is, that our juries are often composed of men of mean estates and low understandings, and many difficult points of law are brought before them, and submitted to their verdict, when perhaps they are not capable of determining properly and judiciously such nice matters of justice, although the judges of the court explain the nature of the case, and the law which arises upon it. But if they are not defective in knowledge, they are sometimes, I fear, from their station and indigence, liable to corruption. This indeed is an objection more to the privilege lodged with juries, than to the insti. tution itself. The point most liable to objection is the power, which any one or more of the twelve have to starve the rest into a compliance with their opinion; so that the verdict may possibly be given by strength of constitution, not by conviction of conscience; and wretches hang, that jurymen may.
ON THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS. We have the origin of book-licensing not, that can be heard of, from any ancient state, or polity, or church, nor by any statute left us by our ancestors elder or later, nor from the modern custom of any reformed city abroad; but from the most antichristian council and the most tyrannous inquisition that ever inquired. Till then books were ever as freely admitted as any other birth; the issue of the brain was no more stifled than the issue of the womb.
I am of those who believe it will be a harder alchymy than Lullius ever knew, to sublimate any good use out of such an invention.
Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolized and traded in by tickets, and statutes, and standards. We must not think to make a staple commodity of all the knowledge in
the land, to mark and license it like our broadcloth and our woolpacks.
To the pure all things are pure; not only meats and drinks, but all kinds of knowledge whether of good or evil; the knowledge cannot defile, nor consequently the books, if the will and conscience be not defiled.
Bad books serve in many, respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate.
Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to doubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter? Who knows not that Truth is strong, next to the Almighty? She need no policies, nor stratagems, nor licensings, to make her victorious: those are the shifts and defences that Errour uses against her power. Give her but room, and do not bind her when she sleeps; for then she speaks not true, but then rather she turns herself into all shapes, except her own, and perhaps tunes her voice according to the time, until she be adjured into her own likeness.
To count a man not fit to print his mind, is the greatest indignity to a free and knowing spirit that can be put upon him. What advantage is it to be a man (rather than] a boy at school, if we have only escaped the ferula to come under the fescue of an imprimatur? When a man writes to the world, he summons up all his reason and deliberation to assist him; he searches, meditates, is industrious, and likely consults and confers with his judicious friends ; if in this, the most consum