Images de page

which the man in office is but too apt to be guilty of, when, exercising his office at a distance from the public eye, and as it were in a corner, he is satisfied that, provided he be cautious, he may dispense with being just, Whatever may be the kind of abuse in which persons in power may, in such a state of things, be tempted to indulge themselves, they are convinced that their irregularities will be immediately divulged. The juryman, for example, knows that his verdict--the judge, that his direction to the jury-will presently be laid before the public : and there is no man in office, but who thus finds himself compelled, in almost every instance to choose between his duty, and the surrender of all his former reputation.

It will, I am aware, be thought that I speak in too high terms of the effects produced by the public news-papers. I indeed confess that all the pieces contained in them are not patterns of good reasoning, or of the truest Attic wit; but, on the other hand, it scarcely ever happens that a subject in which the laws, or in general the public welfare, are really concerned, fails to call forth some able writer, who, under some form or other communicates to the public his observations and complaints.


I shall add here, that, though an upright man, labouring for a while under a strong popular prejudice, may, supported by the consciousness of his innocence, endure with patience the severest imputations, the guilty man, hearing nothing in the reproaches of the public but what he knows to be true, and already upbraids himself with, is very far from enjoying any such comfort; and that, when a man's own conscience takes part against him, the most despicable weapon is sufficient to wound him to the quick.*

Even those persons whose greatness seems most to set them above the reach of public censure, are not those who least feel its effects. They have need of the suffrages of that vulgar

* I shall take this occasion to observe, that the liberty of the press is so far from being injurious to the reputation of individuals (as some persons have complained), that it is, on the contrary, its surest guard. When there exist no means of communication with the public, every one is exposed, without defence, to the secret shafts of malignity and envy. The man in office loses his reputation, the merchant his credit, the private individual his character, without so much as knowing either who are his enemies, or which way they carry on their attacks. But when there exists a free press, an innocent man immediately brings the matter into open day, and crushes his adversaries, at once, by a public challenge to lay before the public the grounds of their several imputations.

[ocr errors]

whom they affect to despise, and who are, after all, the dispensers of that glory which is the real object of their ambitious cares. Though all have not so much sincerity as Alexander, they have equal reason to exclaim, 0 people ! what toils do we not undergo, in order to gain your applause !

I confess that in a state where the people dare not speak their sentiments, but with a view to please the ears of their rulers, it is possible that either the prince, or those to whom he has trusted his authority, may sometimes mistake the nature of the public sentiments; or that, for want of that affection of which they are denied all possible marks, they may rest contented with inspiring terror, and make themselves amends in beholding the oyer-awed multitude smother their complaints.

But when the laws give a full scope to the people for the expression of their sentiments, those who govern cannot conceal from themselves the disagreeable truths which resound from all sides. They are obliged to put up even with ridicule; and the coarsest jests are not always those which give them the least uneasiness. Like the lion in the fable, they must bear the blows of those enemies whom they despise the most ; and they are, at length,

stopped short in their career, and compelled to give up those unjust pursuits which, they find, draw upon them, instead of that admiration which is the proposed end and reward of their labours, nothing but mortification and disgust.

In short, whoever considers what it is that constitutes the moving principle of what we call great affairs, and the invincible sensibility of man to the opinion of his fellow-creatures, will not hesitate to affirm, that, if it were possible for the liberty of the press to exist in a despotic government, and (what is not less difficult) for it to exist without changing the constitution, this liberty would alone form a counterpoise to the power of the prince. If, for example, in an empire of the East, a place could be found, which, rendered respectable by the ancient religion of the people, might ensure safety to those who should bring thither their observations of any kind, and from this sanctuary printed papers should issue, which under a certain seal, might be equally respected, and which in their daily appearance should examine and freely discuss the conduct of the cadis, the pashas, the vizir, the divan, and the sultan himself, - that would immediately introduce some degree of liberty.



The Subject continued.

ANOTHER effect, and a very considerable one, of the liberty of the press, is, that it enables the people effectually to exert those means which the constitution has bestowed on them, of influencing the motions of the government.

It has been observed in a former place, how it came to be a matter of impossibility for any large number of men, when obliged to act in a body, and upon the spot, to take any wellweighed resolution.

But this inconvenience, which is the inevitable consequence of their situation, does in nowise argue a personal inferiority in them, with respect to the few who, from some accidental advantages, are enabled to influence their determinations.

It is not fortune, it is nature, that has made the essential differences between men ; and whatever appellation a small number of persons, who speak without sufficient reflection, may affix to the general body of their fellow-creatures, the whole difference between the statesman, and

« PrécédentContinuer »