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« Fair was that face as break of dawn,
When o'er its beauty sleep was drawn
Gay, half-o'ercome timidity!! We have now quoted enoughi, we believe, to give our readers a pretty just idea of the character of Mr Wilson's poetry. We shall add but one little specimen of his blank verse, which seems to us to be formed, like that of all his school, on the mos del of Akenside's; and to combine, with a good deal of his diffuseness, no ordinary share of its richness and beauty. There are some fine solemn lines on the Spring, from which we take the following, almost at random.
The great Sun,
Yet are ye not,
Of hopes ambitious, the disturbing sound
Pure and serene as the blue depths of heaven.' 249.-250: There is a very sweet and touching monody on the death of Grahame, the much-lamented and most amiable author of the “ Sabbath” and other poems; from which we shall indulge ourselves by making one more extract. The moral character of Mr Wilson's poetry is, throughout, very much the same withi that of the friend he here commemorates; and, in this particu. kr piece, he has falleni very much into his manner also.
Some chosen books by pious men compos'd,
To think so kind and good a man should die.' p.411-414: We now lay aside this volume with regret: for though it has many faults, it has a redeeming spirit, both of fancy
and * of kindness, about it, which will not let them be numbered. It has, moreover, the charm of appearing to be written less from ambition of praise, thun from the direct and genuine im* pulse of the feelings which it expresses ; and though we cannot
undertake to defend it from the scorn of the learned, or the ridicule of the witty, we are very much mistaken if it does not afford a great deal of pleasure to many per:ons almost as well Torth pleasing
Art. VII. Observations on the Criminal Law of England, as it
relates to Capital Punishments; and on the Mode in which it is administered. By Sir SAMUEL ROMILLY. 8vo. pp. 76.
Cadell & Davies. London, 1810. We owe an apology, we believe, both to our readers, and to
the distinguished author of the work before us, for having so long delayed to enter upon an examination of the subject to which it relates. Various accidental circumstances, and several interruptions, of a natore alladed to in our last Number, have occurred to prevent us: Nor do we purpose, at this time, to attempt exhausting the topics which it presents for our consider ation, but rather to introduce them, and lay the foundation of a series of discussions, which we may pursue at a future period. The honour of cooperating, in how humble soever a path, with such a man as Sir Samuel Romilly, in so grand a cause, is sufficient to gratify a far loftier ambition than ours.
There is a tendency in man, connected with some of the least unamiable weaknesses of our nature, to reverence with an undue observance established practices and existing institutions, mere ly because they have been handed down through a succession of ages, and owe their origin to a period of society, in which, as Lord Bacon sagaciously remarks, the world was by so many ages younger and less experienced than it is in our own times. This feeling, while it resists the changes by which customs, and systems of polity, would otherwise be insensibly adapted to the changes which, in spite of us, are constantly going on in the circumstances of society, persuades us, at the same time, that there is a virtue in those very incongruities, rendered every day more apparent, between ancient arrangements and the state of things, wholly unforeseen by their authors, to which they are now applied. Thus, by a strange refinement of self-complácency, we ascribe to design, effects produced, not by human contrivance, but in spite of it,---nay, in counteraction of it, ---and actually give our ancestors credit for having intended that the same plan should work for some ages in one direction, and then for so many more in the very opposite. It is not easy to ima. gine, that any thing but the most entire thoughtlessness could, for a moment, so far supersede the evidence of facts, and the authority of common sense, as to impose such dreams upon our belief.
The most noted example of this delusion meets us in the great question of Reform, in both its branches. Broach the subject of Parliamentary Reform, and you are sure to be met. with an inflated panegyric of the present system of representa- , tion,-contrived by the wisdom of our forefathers to attain the VOL. XIX. NO. 38.
utinost degree of perfection, and unite freedom, stability, and tranquillity. After an invective against reformers, as mere speculatists and theorists, a piece of the purest theory, the most unreal fancy-work is presented, which you are desired to regard as the true mechanism of the constitution. It was fashioned, we are assured, upon the principle of virtual representation-or, at least, a mixture of real and virtual representation, for the purpose of forming an assemblage of persons of all classes, capacities and endowments—some actually and publicly delegated, and others chosen by then selves or a few private nominators. The system of Rotten boroughs is thus recommended as the ancient British constitution ;-—and whoever is foolish enough to doubt, that our ancestors actually designed the stone walls of Gatton and Old Sarum to return as many members as Yorkshire and Lancashire, must be accused of innovation! Nor is this a statement merely held out in terrorem of rash speculators. We verily believe, that there are various worthy characters, in different parts of the country, who feel grateful to their forefathers for the wholesome and constitutional invention of decayed boroughs. In like manner, when you attack sinecures, or offices of which the progress of time has suppressed the duties, and augmented the emoluments, you are again charged with a newfangled disrespect for the wisdom of ages ;-as if, in the nature of things, a sinecure itself could possibly be other than an innovation ;-and as if our ancestors ever contemplated the uses ascribed to such places, any more than they foresaw the constitutional virtue of parliamentary elections by uninhabited towns. Thus, those changes which time is constantly making, are overlooked, -except it be for the purpose of imputing the abuses which steal upon the system, to wisdom and design; and all attempts to accommodate ourselves to those unavoidable changes--that is, to keep things, upon the whole, in their ancient and intended relation to each other-to maintain the order and arrangement contrived by our forefathers, are stigmatized as mere innovations.
The same delusion prevails, for want of but a very little reflexion, respecting several parts of our judicial system. It may safely be asserted, that no law was ever made in the world without the design of carrying it into effect; and yet nothing is more common than to hear the praises of that wise provision (as it is called) of the English law, by which severe punishments are denounced, while mild ones only are inflicted. When the severer statutes were passed, the manners of the age were different, The changes which have gradually softened the character and habits of the people, have made many of those laws a dead letbut we are taught to praise this discrepancy between the
theory and practice of our jurisprudence, as if it were a positive good; and to venerate it as if it had been the result of design in our ancestors,----who, we must therefore suppose, made laws for the purpose of breaking them, or with the refined intention that they should be operative for a certain time, and afterwards cease to be executed.
The beautiful and interesting tract, now before us, begins with an exposition of the error to which we are now alluding: And the best proof of the mischiefs with which it is pregnant is to be found in the fact, that the most cruel laws have actually been executed, down to a comparatively recent period; and that, in general, the relaxation of the criminal law has only taken place to a considerable degree during the last half century. Even the sanguinary act of Elizabeth, Sir Samuel Romilly observes, which made it a capital offence for any person above the age of fourteen, to associate for a month with gypsies, was executed in the reign of Charles the First ;---and Lord Hale mentions thirteen persons having, in his time, suffered death upon it at one assizes. Scanty and imperfect as are the materials for enabling us to trace the progress of the law, enough is known to convince us that no such refined plan can be discerned in former times, as that of leaving severe laws on the statute-book merely to terrify offenders, at the same time that they were relaxed in practice, or wholly suspended as to their execution. Sir John Fortescue tells us, that, in his day (in the reign of Henry VI), more persons were executed in England for robberies in one year, than in France in seven. Hollinshed states, that no less than 72,000 persons died by the hands of the executioner during the reign of Henry VIII-being at the rate of 2000 every year. In Queen Elizabeth's time, only 400 were executed yearly. But this relaxation, far from owing its origin to the Crown, draws forth the complaints of Lord Keeper Bacon, who tells the Parliament, that this ineffectual enforcement of the laws is not the default of her Majesty, 'who leaveth nothing . undone meet for her to do for the execution of them. In more modern times, we have further details of this subject. Mr Howard has published the Tables kept by Sir. Stephen Janssen, by which it appears, that in seven years, ending 1756, there were convicted capitally in London and Middlesex 428of whom about three-fourths, or 306, were executed ;-that from 1756 to 1764, 236 were convicted, and 139, or above onc half, executed ;~from 1764 to 1772, 457 convicted, and 233, or little more than a half, executed. During the interval between 1772 and 1802, the accounts have not been published; but, from 1802 to 1808, the returns, printed by the Secretary of State's Office, afford very accurate information. In 1802, there were Сс 2