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An essay by Thomas De Quincey


Title:     Casuistry
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]





It is remarkable, in the sense of being noticeable and interesting, but not in the sense of being surprising, that Casuistry has fallen into disrepute throughout all Protestant lands. This disrepute is a result partly due to the upright morality which usually follows in the train of the Protestant faith. So far it is honorable, and an evidence of superior illumination. But, in the excess to which it has been pushed, we may trace also a blind and somewhat bigoted reaction of the horror inspired by the abuses of the Popish Confessional. Unfortunately for the interests of scientific ethics, the first cultivators of casuistry had been those who kept in view the professional service of auricular confession. Their purpose was--to assist the reverend confessor in appraising the quality of doubtful actions, in order that he might properly adjust his scale of counsel, of warning, of reproof, and of penance. Some, therefore, in pure simplicity and conscientious discharge of the duty they had assumed, but others, from lubricity of morals or the irritations of curiosity, pushed their investigations into unhallowed paths of speculation. They held aloft a torch for exploring guilty recesses-of human life, which it is far better for us all to leave in their original darkness. Crimes that were often all but imaginary, extravagances of erring passion that would never have been known as possibilities to the young and the innocent, were thus published in their most odious details. At first, it is true, the decent draperies of a dead language were suspended before these abominations: but sooner or later some knave was found, on mercenary motives, to tear away this partial veil; and thus the vernacular literature of most nations in Southern Europe, was gradually polluted with revelations that had been originally made in the avowed service of religion. Indeed, there was one aspect of such books which proved even more extensively disgusting. Speculations pointed to monstrous offences, bore upon their very face and frontispiece the intimation that they related to cases rare and anomalous. But sometimes casuistry pressed into the most hallowed recesses of common domestic life. The delicacy of youthful wives, for example, was often not less grievously shocked than the manliness of husbands, by refinements of monkish subtlety applied to cases never meant for religious cognisance--but far better left to the decision of good feeling, of nature, and of pure household morality. Even this revolting use of casuistry, however, did less to injure its name and pretensions than a persuasion, pretty generally diffused, that the main purpose and drift of this science was a sort of hair-splitting process, by which doubts might be applied to the plainest duties of life, or questions raised on the extent of their obligations, for the single benefit of those who sought to evade them. A casuist was viewed, in short, as a kind of lawyer or special pleader in morals, such as those who, in London, are known as Old Bailey practitioners, called in to manage desperate cases--to suggest all available advantages--to raise doubts or distinctions where simple morality saw no room for either--and generally to teach the art, in nautical phrase, of sailing as near the wind as possible, without fear of absolutely foundering.

Meantime it is certain that casuistry, when soberly applied, is not only a beneficial as well as a very interesting study; but that, by whatever title, it is absolutely indispensable to the practical treatment of morals. We may reject the name; the thing we cannot reject. And accordingly the custom has been, in all English treatises on ethics, to introduce a good deal of casuistry under the idea of special illustration, but without any reference to casuistry as a formal branch of research. Indeed, as society grows complex, the uses of casuistry become more urgent. Even Cicero could not pursue his theme through such barren generalizations as entirely to evade all notice of special cases: and Paley has given the chief interest to his very loose investigations of morality, by scattering a selection of such cases over the whole field of his discussion.

The necessity of casuistry might, in fact, be deduced from the very origin, and genesis of the word. First came the general law or rule of action. This was like the major proposition of a syllogism. But next came a special instance or case, so stated as to indicate whether it did or did not fall under the general rule. This, again, was exactly the minor proposition in a syllogism. For example, in logic we say, as the major proposition in a syllogism, Man is mortal. This is the rule. And then 'subsuming' (such is the technical phrase--subsuming) Socrates under the rule by a minor proposition--viz. Socrates is a man--we are able mediately to connect him with the predicate of that rule, viz, ergo, Socrates is mortal.[Footnote: The ludicrous blunder of Reid (as first published by Lord Kames in his Sketches), and of countless others, through the last seventy or eighty years, in their critiques on the logic of Aristotle, has been to imagine that such illustrations of syllogism as these were meant for specimens of what syllogism could perform. What an elaborate machinery, it was said, for bringing out the merest self-evident truisms! But just as reasonably it might have been objected, when a mathematician illustrated the process of addition by saying 3+4=7, Behold what pompous nothings! These Aristotelian illustrations were purposely drawn from cases not open to dispute, and simply as exemplifications of the meaning: they were intentionally self-evident.] Precisely upon this model arose casuistry. A general rule, or major proposition, was laid down--suppose that he who killed any human being, except under the palliations X, Y, Z, was a murderer. Then in a minor proposition, the special case of the suicide was considered. It was affirmed, or it was denied, that his case fell under some one of the palliations assigned. And then, finally, accordingly to the negative or affirmative shape of this minor proposition, it was argued, in the conclusion, that the suicide was or was not, a murderer. Out of these cases, i.e. oblique deflexions from the universal rule (which is also the grammarian's sense of the word case) arose casuistry.

After morality has done its very utmost in clearing up the grounds upon which it rests its decisions--after it has multiplied its rules to any possible point of circumstantiality--there will always continue to arise cases without end, in the shifting combinations of human action, about which a question will remain whether they do or do not fall under any of these rules. And the best way for seeing this truth illustrated on a broad scale, the shortest way and the most decisive is--to point our attention to one striking fact, viz. that all law, as it exists in every civilized land, is nothing but casuistry. Simply because new cases are for ever arising to raise new doubts whether they do or do not fall under the rule of law, therefore it is that law is so inexhaustible. The law terminates a dispute for the present by a decision of a court, (which constitutes our 'common law,') or by an express act of the legislature, (which constitutes our 'statute law.') For a month or two matters flow on smoothly. But then comes a new case, not contemplated or not verbally provided for in the previous rule. It is varied by some feature of difference. The feature, it is suspected, makes no essential difference: substantially it may be the old case. Ay--but that is the very point to be decided. And so arises a fresh suit at law, and a fresh decision. For example, after many a decision and many a statute, (all arising out of cases supervening upon cases,) suppose that great subdivision of jurisprudence called the Bankrupt Laws to have been gradually matured. It has been settled, suppose, that he who exercises a trade, and no other whatsoever, shall be entitled to the benefit of the bankrupt laws. So far is fixed: and people vainly imagine that at length a station of rest is reached, and that in this direction at least, the onward march of law is barred. Not at all. Suddenly a schoolmaster becomes insolvent, and attempts to avail himself of privileges as a technical bankrupt. But then arises a resistance on the part of those who are interested in resisting: and the question is raised--Whether the calling of a schoolmaster can be legally considered a trade? This also is settled: it is solemnly determined that a schoolmaster is a tradesman. But next arises a case, in which, from peculiar variation of the circumstances, it is doubtful whether the teacher can technically be considered a schoolmaster. Suppose that case settled: a schoolmaster, sub-distinguished as an X Y schoolmaster, is adjudged to come within the meaning of the law. But scarcely is this sub-variety disposed of, than up rises some decomplex case, which is a sub-variety of this sub-variety: and so on for ever.

Hence, therefore, we may see the shortsightedness of Paley in quoting with approbation, and as if it implied a reproach, that the Mussulman religious code contains 'not less than seventy-five thousand traditional precepts.' True: but if this statement shows an excess of circumstantiality in the moral systems of Mussulmans, that result expresses a fact which Paley overlooks--viz. that their moral code is in reality their legal code. It is by aggregation of cases, by the everlasting depullulation of fresh sprouts and shoots from old boughs, that this enormous accumulation takes place; and, therefore, the apparent anomaly is exactly paralleled in our unmanageable superstructure of law, and in the French supplements to their code, which have already far overbuilt the code itself. If names were disregarded, we and the Mahometans are in the very same circumstances.

Casuistry, therefore, is the science of cases, or of those special varieties which are forever changing the face of actions as contemplated in general rules. The tendency of such variations is, in all states of complex civilization, to absolute infinity.[Footnote: We have noticed our own vast pile of law, and that of the French. But neither of us has yet reached the alarming amount of the Roman law, under which the very powers of social movement threatened to break down. Courts could not decide, advocates could not counsel, so interminable was becoming the task of investigation. This led to the great digest of Justinian. But, had Roman society advanced in wealth, extent, and social development, instead of retrograding, the same result would have returned in a worse shape. The same result now menaces England, and will soon menace her much more.] It is our present purpose to state a few of such cases, in order to fix attention upon the interest and the importance which surround them. No modern book of ethics can be worth notice, unless in so far as it selects and argues the more prominent of such cases, as they offer themselves in the economy of daily life. For we repeat--that the name, the word casuistry, may be evaded, but the thing cannot; nor is it evaded in our daily conversations.

I. The Case of the Jaffa Massacre,--No case in the whole compass of casuistry has been so much argued to and fro--none has been argued with so little profit; for, in fact, the main elements of the moral decision have been left out of view. Let us state the circumstances:--On the 11th of February, 1799, Napoleon, then and for seven months before in military possession of Egypt, began his march towards Syria. His object was to break the force of any Turkish invasion, by taking it in fractions. It had become notorious to every person in Egypt, that the Porte rejected the French pretence of having come for the purpose of quelling Mameluke rebellion--the absurdity of which, apart from its ludicrous Quixotism, was evident in the most practical way, viz. by the fact, that the whole revenues of Egypt were more than swallowed up by the pay and maintenance of the French army. What could the Mamelukes have done worse? Hence it had become certain that the Turks would send an expedition to Egypt; and Napoleon viewing the garrisons in Syria as the advanced guard of such an expedition, saw the best chance for general victory in meeting these troops beforehand, and destroying them in detail. About nineteen days brought him within view of the Syrian fields. On the last day of February he slept at the Arimathea of the Gospel. In a day or two after his army was before Jaffa, (the Joppa of the Crusaders,)--a weak place, but of some military interest,[Footnote: It is singular that some peculiar interest has always settled upon Jaffa, no matter who was the military leader of the time, or what the object of the struggle. From Julius Caesar, Joppa enjoyed some special privileges and immunities--about a century after, in the latter years of Nero, a most tragical catastrophe happened at Joppa to the Syrian pirates, by which the very same number perished as in the Napoleon massacre, viz. something about 4000. In the 200 years of the Crusades, Joppa revived again into military verdure. The fact is, that the shore of Syria is pre-eminently deficient in natural harbors, or facilities for harbors--those which exist have been formed by art and severe contest with the opposition of nature. Hence their extreme paucity, and hence their disproportionate importance in every possible war.] from the accident of being the very first fortified town to those entering Palestine from the side of Egypt. On the 4th of March this place was invested; on the 6th, barely forty-eight hours after, it was taken by storm. This fact is in itself important; because it puts an end to the pretence so often brought forward, that the French army had been irritated by a long resistance. Yet, supposing the fact to have been so, how often in the history of war must every reader have met with cases where honorable terms were granted to an enemy merely on account of his obstinate resistance? But then here, it is said, the resistance was wilfully pushed to the arbitration of a storm. Even that might be otherwise stated; but, suppose it true, a storm in military law confers some rights upon the assailants which else they would not have had--rights, however, which cease with the day of storming. Nobody denies that the French army might have massacred all whom they me't in arms at the time and during the agony of storming. But the question is, Whether a resistance of forty-eight hours could create the right, or in the least degree palliate the atrocity, of putting prisoners to death in cold blood? Four days after the storming, when all things had settled back into the quiet routine of ordinary life, men going about their affairs as usual, confidence restored, and, above all things, after the faith of a Christian army had been pledged to these prisoners that not a hair of their heads should be touched, the imagination is appalled by this wholesale butchery--even the apologists of Napoleon are shocked by the amount of murder, though justifying its principle. They admit that there were two divisions of the prisoners--one of fifteen hundred, the other of two thousand five hundred. Their combined amount is equal to a little army; in fact, just about that army with which we fought and won the battle of Maida in Calabria. They composed a force equal to about six English regiments of infantry on the common establishment. Every man of these four thousand soldiers, chiefly brave Albanians--every man of this little army was basely, brutally, in the very spirit of abject poltroonery, murdered--murdered as foully as the infants of Bethlehem; resistance being quite hopeless, not only because they had surrendered their arms, but also because, in reliance on Christian honor, they had quietly submitted to have their hands confined with ropes behind their backs. If this blood did not lie heavy on Napoleon's heart in his dying hours, it must have been because a conscience originally callous had been seared by the very number of his atrocities.

Now, having stated the case, let us review the casuistical apologies put forward. What was to be done with these prisoners? There lay the difficulty. Could they be retained according to the common usage with regard to prisoners? No; for there was a scarcity of provisions, barely sufficient for the French army itself. Could they be transported to Egypt by sea? No; for two English line-of-battle ships, the Theseus and the Tiger, were cruising in the offing, and watching the interjacent seas of Egypt and Syria. Could they be transported to Egypt by land? No; for it was not possible to spare a sufficient escort; besides, this plan would have included the separate difficulty as to food. Finally, then, as the sole resource left, could they be turned adrift? No; for this was but another mode of saying, 'Let us fight the matter over again; reinstate yourselves as our enemies; let us leave Jaffa re infectâ, and let all begin again de novo'--since, assuredly, say the French apologists, in a fortnight from that date, the prisoners would have been found swelling the ranks of those Turkish forces whom Napoleon had reason to expect in front.

Before we take one step in replying to these arguments, let us cite two parallel cases from history: they are interesting for themselves, and they show how other armies, not Christian, have treated the self-same difficulty in practice. The first shall be a leaf taken from the great book of Pagan experience; the second from Mahometan: and both were cases in which the parties called on to cut the knot had been irritated to madness by the parties lying at their disposal.

1. The Pagan Decision.--In that Jewish war of more than three years' duration, which terminated in the destruction of Jerusalem, two cities on the lake of Gennesaret were besieged by Vespasian. One of these was Tiberias: the other Tarichæ. Both had been defended with desperation; and from their peculiar situation upon water, and amongst profound precipices, the Roman battering apparatus had not been found applicable to their walls. Consequently the resistance and the loss to the Romans had been unexampled. At the latter siege Vespasian was present in person. Six thousand five hundred had perished of the enemy. A number of prisoners remained, amounting to about forty thousand. What was to be done with them? A great council was held, at which the commander-in-chief presided, assisted (as Napoleon) by his whole staff. Many of the officers were strongly for having the whole put to death: they used the very arguments of the French--'that, being people now destitute of habitations, they would infallibly urge any cities which received them into a war:' fighting, in fact, henceforward upon a double impulse--viz. the original one of insurrection, and a new one of revenge. Vespasian was sensible of all this; and he himself remarked, that, if they had any indulgence of flight conceded, they would assuredly use it against the authors of that indulgence. But still, as an answer to all objections, he insisted on the solitary fact, that he had pledged the Roman faith for the security of their lives; 'and to offer violence, after he had given them his right hand, was what he could not bear to think of.' Such are the simple words of Josephus. In the end, overpowered by his council, Vespasian made a sort of compromise. Twelve hundred, as persons who could not have faced the hardships of captivity and travel, he gave up to the sword. Six thousand select young men were transported as laborers into Greece, with a view to Nero's scheme, then in agitation, for cutting through the isthmus of Corinth; the main body, amounting to thirty thousand, were sold for slaves; and all the rest, who happened to be subjects of Agrippa, as a mark of courtesy to that prince, were placed at his disposal. Now, in this case, it will be alleged that perhaps the main feature of Napoleon's case was not realized, viz. the want of provisions. Every Roman soldier carried on his shoulders a load of seventeen days' provisions, expressly in preparation for such dilemmas; and Palestine was then rank with population gathered into towns. This objection will be noticed immediately: but, meantime, let it be remembered that the prisoners personally appeared before their conquerors in far worse circumstances than the garrison of Jaffa, except as to the one circumstance (in which both parties stood on equal ground) of having had their lives guaranteed. For the prisoners of Gennesaret were chiefly aliens and fugitives from justice, who had no national or local interest in the cities which they had tempted or forced into insurrection; they were clothed with no military character whatever; in short, they were pure vagrant incendiaries. And the populous condition of Palestine availed little towards the execution of Vespasian's sentence: nobody in that land would have bought such prisoners; nor, if they would, were there any means available, in the agitated state of the Jewish people, for maintaining their purchase. It would, therefore, be necessary to escort them to Caesarea, as the nearest Roman port for shipping them: thence perhaps to Alexandria, in order to benefit by the corn vessels: and from Alexandria the voyage to remoter places would be pursued at great cost and labor--all so many objections exactly corresponding to those of Napoleon, and yet all overruled by the single consideration of a Roman (viz. a Pagan) right hand pledged to the fulfilment of a promise. As to the twelve hundred old and helpless people massacred in cold blood, as regarded themselves it was a merciful doom, and one which many of the Jerusalem captives afterwards eagerly courted. But still it was a shocking case. It was felt to be so by many Romans themselves: Vespasian was overruled in that instance: and the horror which settled upon the mind of Titus, his eldest son, from that very case amongst others, made him tender of human life, and anxiously merciful, through the great tragedies which were now beginning to unrol themselves.

2. The Mahometan Decision.--The Emperor Charles V., at different periods, twice invaded the piratical states in the north of Africa. The last of these invasions, directed against Algiers, failed miserably, covering the Emperor with shame, and strewing both land and sea with the wrecks of his great armament. But six years before, he had conducted a most splendid and successful expedition against Tunis, then occupied by Heyradin Barbarossa, a valiant corsair and a prosperous usurper. Barbarossa had an irregular force of fifty thousand men; the Emperor had a veteran army, but not acclimatized, and not much above one half as numerous. Things tended, therefore, strongly to an equilibrium. Such were the circumstances--such was the position on each side: Barbarossa, with his usual adventurous courage, was drawing out of Tunis in order to fight the invader: precisely at that moment occurred the question of what should be done with the Christian slaves. A stronger case cannot be imagined: they were ten thousand fighting men; and the more horrible it seemed to murder so many defenceless people, the more dreadfully did the danger strike upon the imagination. It was their number which appalled the conscience of those who speculated on their murder; but precisely that it was, when pressed upon the recollection, which appalled the prudence of their Moorish masters. Barbarossa himself, familiar with bloody actions, never hesitated about the proper course: 'massacre without mercy' was his proposal. But his officers thought otherwise: they were brave men; 'and,' says Robertson, 'they all approved warmly of his intention to fight. But, inured as they were to scenes of bloodshed, the barbarity of his proposal filled them with horror; and Barbarossa, from the dread of irritating them, consented to spare the lives of the slaves.' Now, in this case, the penalty attached to mercy, in case it should turn out unhappily for those who so nobly determined to stand the risk, cannot be more tragically expressed, than by saying that it did turn out unhappily. We need not doubt that the merciful officers were otherwise rewarded; but for this world and the successes of this world the ruin was total. Barbarossa was defeated in the battle which ensued; flying pell-mell to Tunis with the wrecks of his army, he found these very ten thousand Christians in possession of the fort and town: they turned his own artillery upon himself: and his overthrow was sealed by that one act of mercy--so unwelcome from the very first to his own Napoleonish temper.

Thus we see how this very case of Jaffa had been Settled by Pagan and Mahometan casuists, where courage and generosity happened to be habitually prevalent. Now, turning back ta the pseudo-Christian army, let us very briefly review the arguments for them. First, there were no provisions. But how happened that? or how is it proved? Feeding the prisoners from the 6th to the 10th inclusively of March, proves that there was no instant want. And how was it, then, that Napoleon had run his calculations so narrowly! The prisoners were just 33 per cent, on the total French army, as originally detached from Cairo. Some had already perished of that army: and in a few weeks more, one half of that army had perished, or six thousand men, whose rations were hourly becoming disposable for the prisoners. Secondly, a most important point, resources must have been found in Jaffa.

But thirdly, if not, if Jaffa were so ill-provisioned, how had it ever dreamed of standing a siege? And knowing its condition, as Napoleon must have done from deserters and otherwise, how came he to adopt so needless a measure as that of storming the place? Three days must have compelled it to surrender upon any terms, if it could be really true that, after losing vast numbers of its population in the assault (for it was the bloodshed of the assault which originally suggested the interference of the aides-de-camp,) Jaffa was not able to allow half-rations even to a part of its garrison for a few weeks. What was it meant that the whole should have done, had Napoleon simply blockaded it? Through all these contradictions we see the truth looming as from behind a mist: it was not because provisions failed that Napoleon butchered four thousand young men in cold blood; it was because he wished to signalize his entrance into Palestine by a sanguinary act, such as might strike terror far and wide, resound through Syria as well as Egypt, and paralyze the nerves of his enemies. Fourthly, it is urged that, if he had turned the prisoners loose, they would have faced him again in his next battle. How so? Prisoners without arms? But then, perhaps, they could have retreated upon Acre, where it is known that Djezzar, the Turkish pacha, had a great magazine of arms. That might have been dangerous, if any such retreat had been open. But surely the French army, itself under orders for Acre, could at least have intercepted the Acre route from the prisoners. No other remained but that through the defiles of Naplous. In this direction, however, there was no want of men. Beyond the mountains cavalry only were in use: and the prisoners had no horses, nor habits of acting as cavalry. In the defiles it was riflemen who were wanted, and the prisoners had no rifles; besides that, the line of the French operations never came near to that route. Then, again, if provisions were so scarce, how were the unarmed prisoners to obtain them on the simple allegation that they had fought unsuccessfully against the French!

But, finally, one conclusive argument there is against this damnable atrocity of Napoleon's, which, in all future Lives of Napoleon, one may expect to see-noticed, viz., that if the circumstances of Palestine were such as to forbid the ordinary usages of war, if (which we are far from believing) want of provisions made it indispensable to murder prisoners in cold blood--in that case a Syrian war became impossible to a man of honor; and the guilt commences from a higher point than Jaffa. Already at Cairo, and in the elder stages of the expedition, planned in face of such afflicting necessities, we read the counsels of a murderer; of one rightly carrying such a style of warfare towards the ancient country of the assassins; of one not an apostate merely from Christian humanity, but from the lowest standard of soldierly honor. He and his friends abuse Sir Hudson Lowe as a jailer. But far better to be a jailer, and faithful to one's trust, than to be the cut-throat of unarmed men.

One consideration remains, which we reserve to the end; because it has been universally overlooked, and because it is conclusive against Napoleon, even on his own hypothesis of an absolute necessity. In Vespasian's case it does not appear that he had gained anything for himself, or for his army, by his promise of safety to the enemy: he had simply gratified his own feelings by holding out prospects of final escape. But Napoleon had absolutely seduced the four thousand men from a situation of power, from vantage-ground, by his treacherous promise. And when the French apologists plead--'If we had dismissed the prisoners we should soon have had to fight the battle over again'--they totally forget the state of the facts: they had not fought the battle at all: they had evaded the battle as to these prisoners: as many enemies as could have faced them de novo, so many had they bought off from fighting. Forty centuries of armed men, brave and despairing, and firing from windows, must have made prodigious havoc: and this havoc the French evaded by a trick, by a perfidy, perhaps unexampled in the annals of military men.

II. Piracy.-It is interesting to trace the revolutions of moral feeling. In the early stages of history we find piracy in high esteem. Thucydides tells us that ληστεια, or robbery, when conducted at sea, (i. e. robbery on non-Grecian people,) was held in the greatest honor by his countrymen in elder ages. And this, in fact, is the true station, this point of feeling for primitive man, from which we ought to view the robberies and larcenies of savages. Captain Cook, though a good and often a wise man, erred in this point. He took a plain Old Bailey view of the case; and very sincerely believed, (as all sea-captains ever have done,) that a savage must be a bad man, who would purloin anything that was not his. Yet it is evident that the poor child of uncultured nature, who saw strangers descending, as it were from the moon, upon his aboriginal forests and lawns, must have viewed them under the same angle as the Greeks of old. They were no part of any system to which he belonged; and why should he not plunder them? By force if he could: but, where that was out of the question, why should he not take the same credit for an undetected theft that the Spartan gloried in taking? To be detected was both shame and loss; but he was certainly entitled to any glory which might seem to settle upon success, not at all less than the more pretending citizen of Sparta. Besides all which, amongst us civilized men the rule obtains universally--that the state and duties of peace are to be presumed until war is proclaimed. Whereas, amongst rude nations, war is understood to be the rule--war, open or covert, until suspended by express contract. Bellum inter omnes is the natural state of things for all, except those who view themselves as brothers by natural affinity, by local neighborhood, by common descent, or who make themselves brothers by artificial contracts. Captain Cook, who overlooked all this, should have begun by arranging a solemn treaty with the savages amongst whom he meant to reside for any length of time. This would have prevented many an angry broil then, and since then: it would also have prevented his own tragical fate. Meantime the savage is calumniated and misrepresented, for want of being understood.

There is, however, amongst civilized nations a mode of piracy still tolerated, or which was tolerated in the last war, but is now ripe for extinction. It is that war of private men upon private men, which goes on under the name of privateering. Great changes have taken place in our modes of thinking within the last twenty-five years; and the greatest change of all lies in the thoughtful spirit which we now bring to the investigation of all public questions. We have no doubt at all that, when next a war arises at sea, the whole system of privateering will be condemned by the public voice. And the next step after that will be, to explode all war whatsoever, public or private, upon commerce. War will be conducted by belligerents and upon belligerents exclusively. To imagine the extinction of war itself, in the present stage of human advance, is, we fear, idle. Higher modes of civilization--an earth more universally colonized--the homo sapiens of Linnaeus more humanized, and other improvements must pave the way for that: but amongst the earliest of those improvements, will be the abolition of war carried into quarters where the spirit of war never ought to penetrate. Privateering will be abolished. War, on a national scale, is often ennobling, and one great instrument of pioneering for civilization; but war of private citizen upon his fellow, in another land, is always demoralizing.

III. Usury.--This ancient subject of casuistry we place next to piracy, for a significant reason: the two practices have both changed their public reputation as civilization has advanced, but inversely--they have interchanged characters. Piracy, beginning in honor, has ended in infamy: and at this moment it happens to be the sole offence against society in which all the accomplices, without pity or intercession, let them be ever so numerous, are punished capitally. Elsewhere, we decimate, or even centesimate: here, we are all children of Rhadamanthus. Usury, on the other hand, beginning in utter infamy, has travelled upwards into considerable esteem; and Mr. '10 per shent' stands a very fair chance of being pricked for sheriff next year; and, in one generation more, of passing for a great patriot. Charles Lamb complained that, by gradual changes, not on his part, but in the spirit of refinement, he found himself growing insensibly into 'an indecent character.' The same changes which carry some downwards, carry others up; and Shylock himself will soon be viewed as an eminent martyr or confessor for the truth as it is in the Alley. Seriously, however, there is nothing more remarkable in the history of casuistical ethics, than the utter revolution in human estimates of usury. In this one point the Hebrew legislator agreed with the Roman--Deuteronomy with the Twelve Tables. Cicero mentions that the elder Cato being questioned on various actions, and how he ranked them in his esteem, was at length asked, Quid fœnerari? --how did he rank usury? His indignant answer was, by a retorted question--Quid hominem occidere? --what do I think of murder? In this particular case, as in some others, we must allow that our worthy ancestors and forerunners upon this terraqueous planet were enormous blockheads. And their 'exquisite reason' for this opinion on usury, was quite worthy of Sir Andrew Aguecheek:--'money,' they argued, 'could not breed money: one guinea was neither father nor mother to another guinea: and where could be the justice of making a man pay for the use of a thing which that thing could never produce?' But, venerable blockheads, that argument applies to the case of him who locks up his borrowed guinea. Suppose him not to lock it up, but to buy a hen, and the hen to lay a dozen eggs; one of those eggs will be so much per cent.; and the thing borrowed has then produced its own foenus. A still greater inconsistency was this: Our ancestors would have rejoined--that many people did not borrow in order to produce, i. e. to use the money as capital, but in order to spend, i. e. to use it as income. In that case, at least, the borrowers must derive the foenus from some other fund than the thing borrowed: for, by the supposition, the thing borrowed has been spent. True; but on the same principle these ancestors ought to have forbidden every man to sell any article whatsoever to him who paid for it out of other funds than those produced by the article sold. Mere logical consistency required this: it happens, indeed, to be impossible: but that only argues their entire non-comprehension of their own doctrines.

The whole history of usury teems with instruction: 1st, comes the monstrous absurdity in which the proscription of usury anchored; 2d, the absolute compulsion and pressure of realities in forcing men into a timid abandonment of their own doctrines; 3d, the unconquerable power of sympathy, which humbled all minds to one level, and forced the strongest no less than the feeblest intellects into the same infatuation of stupidity. The casuistry of ancient moralists on this question, especially of the scholastic moralists, such as Suarrez, &c.--the; oscillations by which they ultimately relaxed and tied up the law, just as their erring conscience, or the necessities of social life prevailed, would compose one of the interesting chapters in this science. But the Jewish relaxation is the most amusing: it coincides altogether with the theory of savages as to property, which we have already noticed under the head of Piracy. All men on earth, except Jews, were held to be fair subjects for usury; not as though usury were a just or humane thing: no--it was a belligerent act: but then all foreigners in the Jewish eye were enemies for the same reason that the elder Romans had a common term for an enemy and a stranger. And it is probable that many Jews at this day, in exercising usury, conceive themselves to be seriously making war, in a privateering fashion, upon Christendom, and practising reprisals on the Gentiles for ruined Jerusalem.

IV. Bishop Gibson's Chronicon Preciosum.--Many people are aware that this book is a record of prices, as far as they were recoverable, pursued through six centuries of English History. But they are not aware that this whole inquiry is simply the machinery for determining a casuistical question. The question was this:--An English College, but we cannot say in which of our universities, had been founded in the reign of Henry VI., and between 1440 and 1460--probably it might be King's College, Cambridge. Now, the statutes of this college make it imperative upon every candidate for a fellowship to swear that he does not possess an estate in land of inheritance, nor a perpetual pension amounting to five pounds per annum, It is certain, however, that the founder did not mean superstitiously so much gold or silver as made nominally the sum of five pounds, but so much as virtually represented the five pounds of Henry VI.'s time--so much as would buy the same quantity of ordinary comfort. Upon this, therefore, arose two questions for the casuist: (1.) What sum did substantially represent, in 1706, (the year of publishing the Chron. Preciosum,) that nominal £5 of 1440? (2.) Supposing this ascertained, might a man with safe conscience retain his fellowship by swearing that he had not £5 a-year, when perhaps he had £20, provided that £20 were proved to be less in efficacy than the £5 of the elder period? Verbally this was perjury: was it such in reality and to the conscience?

The Chronicle is not, as by its title the reader might suppose, a large folio: on the contrary, it is a small octavo of less than 200 pages. But it is exceedingly interesting, very ably reasoned, and as circumstantial in its illustrations as the good bishop's opportunities allowed him to make it. In one thing he was more liberal than Sir William Petty, Dr. Davenant, &c.;, or any elder economists of the preceding century; he would have statistics treated as a classical or scholar-like study; and he shows a most laudable curiosity in all the questions arising out of his main one. His answer to that is as follows: 1st, that £5 in Henry VI.'s time contained forty ounces of silver, whereas in Queen Anne's it contained only nineteen ounces and one-third; so that, in reality, the £5 of 1440, was, even as to weight of silver, rather more than £10 of 1706. 2d, as to the efficacy of £10 in Henry VI.'s reign: upon reviewing the main items of common household (and therefore of common academic) expenditure, and pursuing this review through bad years and good years, the bishop decides that it is about equal to £25 or £30 of Queen Anne's reign. Sir George Shuckburgh has since treated this casuistical problem more elaborately: but Bishop Gibson it was, who, in his Chronicon Preciosum, first broke the ice.

After this, he adds an ingenious question upon the apparently parallel case of a freeholder swearing himself worth 40s. per annum as a qualification for an electoral vote: ought not he to hold himself perjured in voting upon an estate often so much below the original 40s. contemplated by Parliament, for the very same reason that a collegian is not perjured in holding a fellowship, whilst, in fact, he may have four or five times the nominal sum privileged by the founder? The bishop says no; and he distinguishes the case thus: the college £5 must always mean a virtual £5--a £5 in efficacy, and not merely in name. But the freeholder's 40s. is not so restricted; and for the following reason--that this sum is constantly coming under the review of Parliament. It is clear, therefore, from the fact of not having altered it, that Parliament is satisfied with a merely nominal 40s., and sees no reason to alter it. True, it was a rule enacted by the Parliament of 1430; at which time 40s. was even in weight of silver equal to 80s. of 1706; and in virtue or power of purchasing equal to £12 at the least. The qualification of a freeholder is, therefore, much lower in Queen Anne's days than in those of Henry VI. But what of that? Parliament, it must be presumed, sees good reason why it should be lower. And at all events, till the law operates amiss, there can be no reason to alter it.

A case of the same kind with those argued by Bishop Gibson arose often in trials for larceny--we mean as to that enactment which fixed the minimum for a capital offence. This case is noticed by the bishop, and juries of late years often took the casuistry into their own hands. They were generally thought to act with no more than a proper humanity to the prisoner; but still people thought such juries incorrect. Whereas, if Bishop Gibson is right, who allows a man to swear positively that he has not £5 a-year, when nominally he has much more, such juries were even technically right. However, this point is now altered by Sir Robert Peel's reforms. But there are other cases, and especially those which arise not between different times but between different places, which will often require the same kind of casuistry as that which is so ably applied by the good and learned bishop.

V. Suicide.--It seems passing strange that the main argument upon which Pagan moralists relied in their unconditional condemnation of suicide, viz. the supposed analogy of our situation in life to that of a sentinel mounting guard, who cannot, without a capital offence, quit his station until called off by his commanding officer, is dismissed with contempt by a Christian moralist, viz. Paley. But a stranger thing still is--that the only man who ever wrote a book in palliation of suicide, should have been not only a Christian--not only an official minister and dignitary of a metropolitan Christian church--but also a scrupulously pious man. We allude, as the reader will suppose, to Dr. Donne, Dean of St. Paul's. His opinion is worthy of consideration. Not that we would willingly diminish, by one hair's weight, the reasons against suicide; but it is never well to rely upon ignorance or inconsideration for the defence of any principle whatever. Donne's notion was, (a notion, however, adopted in his earlier years,) that as we do not instantly pronounce a man a murderer upon hearing that he has killed a fellow-creature, but, according to the circumstances of the case, pronounce his act either murder, or manslaughter, or justifiable homicide; so by parity of reason, suicide is open to distinctions of the same or corresponding kinds; that there may be such a thing as self-homicide not less than self-murder--culpable self-homicide --justifiable self-homicide. Donne called his Essay by the Greek name Biathanatos,[Footnote: This word, however, which occurs nowhere that we remember, except in Lampridius, one of the Augustan historians, is here applied to Heliogabalus; and means, not the act of suicide, but a suicidal person. And possibly Donne, who was a good scholar, may so mean it to be understood in his title-page. Heliogabalus, says Lampridius, had been told by the Syrian priests that he should be Biathanatos, i. e. should commit suicide. He provided, therefore, ropes of purple and of gold intertwisted, that he might hang himself imperatorially. He provided golden swords, that he might run himself through as became Caesar. He had poisons inclosed in jewels, that he might drink his farewell heeltaps, if drink he must, in a princely style. Other modes of august death he had prepared. Unfortunately all were unavailing, for he was murdered and dragged through the common sewers by ropes, without either purple or gold in their base composition. The poor fellow has been sadly abused in history; but, after all, he was a mere boy, and as mad as a March hare.] meaning violent death. But a thing equally strange and a blasphemy almost unaccountable, is the fancy of a Prussian or Saxon baron, who wrote a book to prove that Christ committed suicide, for which he had no other argument than that, in fact, he had surrendered himself unresistingly into the hands of his enemies, and had in a manner caused his own death. This, however, describes the case of every martyr that ever was or can be. It is the very merit and grandeur of the martyr, that he proclaims the truth with his eyes open to the consequences of proclaiming it. Those consequences are connected with the truth, but not by a natural link: the connection is by means of false views, which it is the very business of the martyr to destroy. And, if a man founds my death upon an act which my conscience enjoys, even though I am aware and fully warned that he will found my death upon it, I am not, therefore, guilty of suicide. For, by the supposition, I was obliged to the act in question by the highest of all obligations, viz. moral obligation, which far transcends all physical obligation; so that, whatever excuse attaches to a physical necessity, attaches, a fortiori, to the moral necessity. The case is, therefore, precisely the same as if he had said,--'I will put you to death if the frost benumbs your feet.' The answer is--'I cannot help this effect of frost.' Far less can I help revealing a celestial truth. I have no power, no liberty, to forbear. And, in killing me, he punishes me for a mere necessity of my situation and my knowledge.

It is urged that brutes never commit suicide--except, indeed, the salamander, who has been suspected of loose principles in this point; and we ourselves know a man who constantly affirmed that a horse of his had committed suicide, by violently throwing himself from the summit of a precipice. 'But why,'--as we still asked him--'why should the horse have committed felony on himself? Were oats rising in the market?--or was he in love?--or vexed by politics?--or could a horse, and a young one rising four, be supposed to suffer from taedium vitae?' Meantime, as respects the general question of brute suicides, two points must be regarded,--1st, That brutes are cut off from the vast world of moral and imaginative sufferings entailed upon man; 2dly, That this very immunity presupposes another immunity--

'A cool suspense from pleasure and from pain,'

in the far coarser and less irritable animal organization which must be the basis of an insulated physical sensibility. Brutes can neither suffer from intellectual passions, nor, probably, from very complex derangements of the animal system; so that in them the motives to suicide, the temptations to suicide, are prodigiously diminished. Nor are they ever alive to 'the sublime attractions of the grave.' It is, however, a humiliating reflection, that, if any brutes can feel such aspirations, it must be those which are under the care of man. Doubtless the happiness of brutes is sometimes extended by man; but also, too palpably, their misery.

Why suicide is not noticed in the New Testament is a problem yet open to the profound investigator.

VI. Duelling.--No one case, in the vast volume of casuistry, is so difficult to treat with justice and reasonable adaptation to the spirit of modern times, as this of duelling. For, as to those who reason all upon one side, and never hearken in good faith to objections or difficulties, such people convince nobody but those who were already convinced before they began. At present, (1839,) society has for some years been taking a lurch to one side against duelling: but inevitably a reaction will succeed; for, after all, be it as much opposed as it may to Christianity, duelling performs such important functions in society as now constituted--we mean by the sense of instant personal accountability which it diffuses universally amongst gentlemen, and all who have much sensibility to the point of honor--that, for one life which it takes away as an occasional sacrifice, it saves myriads from outrage and affronts--millions from the anxiety attached to inferior bodily strength. However, it is no part of our present purpose to plead the cause of duelling, though pleaded it must be, more fairly than it ever has been, before any progress will be made in suppressing it.

But the point which we wish to notice at present, is the universal blunder about the Romans and Greeks. They, it is alleged, fought no duels; and occasion is thence taken to make very disadvantageous reflections upon us, the men of this Christian era, who, in defiance of our greater light, do fight duels. Lord Bacon himself is duped by this enormous blunder, and founds upon it a long speech in the Star-Chamber.

Now, in the first place, who does not see that, if the Pagans really were enabled by their religion to master their movements of personal anger and hatred, the inevitable inference will be to the disadvantage of Christianity. It would be a clear case. Christianity and Paganism have been separately tried as means of self-control; Christianity has flagrantly failed; Paganism succeeded universally; not having been found unequal to the task in any one known instance.

But this is not so. A profounder error never existed. No religious influence whatever restrained the Greek or the Roman from fighting a duel. It was purely a civic influence, and it was sustained by this remarkable usage--in itself a standing opprobrium to both Greek and Roman--viz. the unlimited license of tongue allowed to anger in the ancient assemblies and senates. This liberty of foul language operated in two ways: 1st, Being universal, it took away all ground for feeling the words of an antagonist as any personal insult; so he had rarely a motive for a duel. 2dly, the anger was thus less acute; yet, if it were acute, then this Billingsgate resource furnished an instantaneous vehicle for expectorating the wrath. Look, for example, at Cicero's orations against Mark Antony, or Catiline, or against Piso. This last person was a senator of the very highest rank, family, connections; yet, in the course of a few pages, does Cicero, a man of letters, polished to the extreme standard of Rome, address him by the elegant appellations of 'filth,' 'mud,' 'carrion,' (projectum cadaver.) How could Piso have complained? It would have been said-'Oh, there's an end of republican simplicity, if plain speaking is to be put down.' And then it would have been added invidiously--'Better men than ever stood in your shoes have borne worse language. Will you complain of what was tolerated by Africanus, by Paulus Aemilius, by Marius, by Sylla?' Who could reply to that? And why should Piso have even wished to call out his foul-mouthed antagonist? On the contrary, a far more genial revenge awaited him than any sword could have furnished. Pass but an hour, and you will hear Piso speaking--it will then be his turn--every dog has his day; and, though not quite so eloquent as his brilliant enemy, he is yet eloquent enough for the purposes of revenge--he is eloquent enough to call Cicero 'filth,' 'mud,' carrion.'

No: the reason of our modern duelling lies deeper than is supposed: it lies in the principle of honor--a direct product of chivalry--as that was in part a product of Christianity. The sense of honor did not exist in Pagan times. Natural equity, and the equity of civil laws--those were the two moral forces under which men acted. Honor applies to cases where both those forces are silent. And precisely because they had no such sense, and because their revenge emptied itself by the basest of all channels, viz. foul speaking and license of tongue, was it that the Greeks and Romans had no duelling. It was no glory to them that they had not, but the foulest blot on their moral grandeur.

How it was that Christianity was able, mediately, to generate the principle of honor, is a separate problem. But this is the true solution of that common casuistical question about duelling.



--'Celebrare domestlca facta.'--HOR.

In a former notice of Casuistry, we touched on such cases only as were of public bearings, or such as (if private) were of rare occurrence and of a tragical standard. But ordinary life, in its most domestic paths, teems with cases of difficult decision; or if not always difficult in the decision of the abstract question at issue, difficult in the accommodation of that decision to immediate practice. A few of these more homely cases, intermixed with more public ones, we shall here select and review; for, according to a remark in our first paper, as social economy grows more elaborate, the demand grows more intense for such circumstantial morality. As man advances, casuistry advances. Principles are the same: but the abstraction of principles from accidents and circumstances becomes a work of more effort. Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, has not one case; Cicero, three hundred years after, has a few; Paley, eighteen hundred years after Cicero, has many.

There is also something in place as well as in time--in the people as well as the century--which determines the amount of interest in casuistry. We once heard an eminent person delivering it as an opinion, derived from a good deal of personal experience--that of all European nations, the British was that which suffered most from remorse; and that, if internal struggles during temptation, or sufferings of mind after yielding to temptation, were of a nature to be measured upon a scale, or could express themselves sensibly to human knowledge, the annual report from Great Britain, its annual balance-sheet, by comparison with those from continental Europe, would show a large excess. At the time of hearing this remarkable opinion, we, the hearers, were young; and we had little other ground for assent or dissent, than such general impressions of national differences as we might happen to have gathered from the several literatures of Christian nations. These were of a nature to confirm the stranger's verdict; and it will not be denied that much of national character comes forward in literature: but these were not sufficient. Since then, we have had occasion to think closely on that question. We have had occasion to review the public records of Christendom; and beyond all doubt the public conscience, the international conscience, of a people, is the reverberation of its private conscience. History is but the converging into a focus of what is moving in the domestic life below; a set of great circles expressing and summing up, on the dial-plate, the motions of many little circles in the machinery within. Now History, what may be called the Comparative History of Modern Europe, countersigns the traveller's opinion.

'So, then,' says a foreigner, or an Englishman with foreign sympathies, 'the upshot and amount of this doctrine is, that England is more moral than other nations.' 'Well,' we answer, 'and what of that?' Observe, however, that the doctrine went no farther than as to conscientiousness; the principle out of which comes sorrow for all violation of duty; out of which comes a high standard of duty. Meantime both the 'sorrow' and the 'high standard' are very compatible with a lax performance. But suppose we had gone as far as the objector supposes, and had ascribed a moral superiority every way to England, what is there in that to shock probability? Whether the general probability from analogy, or the special probability from the circumstances of this particular case? We all know that there is no general improbability in supposing one nation, or one race, to outrun another. The modern Italians have excelled all nations in musical sensibility, and in genius for painting. They have produced far better music than all the rest of the world put together. And four of their great painters have not been approached hitherto by the painters of any nation. That facial structure, again, which is called the Caucasian, and which, through the ancient Greeks, has travelled westward to the nations of Christendom, and from them (chiefly ourselves) has become the Transatlantic face, is, past all disputing, the finest type of the human countenance divine on this planet. And most other nations, Asiatic or African, have hitherto put up with this insult; except, indeed, the Kalmuck Tartars, who are highly indignant at our European vanity in this matter; and some of them, says Bergmann, the German traveller, absolutely howl with rage, whilst others only laugh hysterically, at any man's having the insanity to prefer the Grecian features to the Kalmuck. Again, amongst the old pagan nations, the Romans seem to have had 'the call' for going ahead; and they fulfilled their destiny in spite of all that the rest of the world could do to prevent them. So that, far from it being an improbable or unreasonable assumption, superiority (of one kind or other) has been the indefeasible inheritance of this and that nation, at all periods of history.

Still less is the notion tenable of any special improbability applying to this particular pretension. For centuries has England enjoyed--1st, civil liberty; 2d, the Protestant faith. Now in those two advantages are laid the grounds, the very necessities, a priori, of a superior morality. But watch the inconsistency of men: ask one of these men who dispute this English pretension mordicus; ask him, or bid an Austrian serf ask him, what are the benefits of Protestantism, and what the benefits of liberty, that he should risk anything to obtain either. Hear how eloquently he insists upon their beneficial results, severally and jointly; and notice that he places foremost among those results a pure morality. Is he wrong? No: the man speaks bare truth. But what brute oblivion he manifests of his own doctrine, in taxing with arrogance any people for claiming one of those results in esse, which he himself could see so clearly in posse! Talk no more of freedom, or of a pure religion, as fountains of a moral pre-eminence, if those who have possessed them in combination for the longest space of time may not, without arrogance, claim the vanward place amongst the nations of Europe.

So far as to the presumptions, general or special; so far as to the probabilities, analogous or direct, in countenance of this British claim. Finally, when we come to the proofs, from fact and historical experience, we might appeal to a singular case in the records of our Exchequer; viz., that for much more than a century back, our Gazette and other public advertisers, have acknowledged a series of anonymous remittances from those who, at some time or other, had appropriated public money. We understand that no corresponding fact can be cited from foreign records. Now, this is a direct instance of that compunction which our travelled friend insisted on. But we choose rather to throw ourselves upon the general history of Great Britain, upon the spirit of her policy, domestic or foreign, and upon the universal principles of her public morality. Take the case of public debts, and the fulfilment of contracts to those who could not have compelled the fulfilment; we first set this precedent. All nations have now learned that honesty in such cases is eventually the best policy; but this they learned from our experience, and not till nearly all of them had tried the other policy. We it was, who, under the most trying circumstances of war, maintained the sanctity from taxation of all foreign investments in our funds. Our conduct with regard to slaves, whether in the case of slavery or of the slave-trade--how prudent it may always have been, we need not inquire; as to its moral principles, they went so far ahead of European standards, that we were neither comprehended nor believed. The perfection of romance was ascribed to us by all who did not reproach us with the perfection of Jesuitical knavery; by many our motto was supposed to be no longer the old one of 'divide et impera,' but 'annihila et appropria.' Finally, looking back to our dreadful conflicts with the three conquering despots of modern history, Philip II. of Spain, Louis XIV., and Napoleon, we may incontestably boast of having been single in maintaining the general equities of Europe by war upon a colossal scale, and by our councils in the general congresses of Christendom.

Such a review would amply justify the traveller's remarkable dictum upon the principle of remorse, and therefore of conscientiousness, as existing in greater strength amongst the people of Great Britain. In the same proportion we may assume, in such a people, a keener sensibility to moral distinctions; more attention to shades of difference in the modes of action; more anxiety as to the grounds of action. In the same proportion we may assume a growing and more direct regard to casuistry; which is precisely the part of ethics that will be continually expanding, and continually throwing up fresh doubts. Not as though a moral principle could ever be doubtful. But that the growing complexity of the circumstances will make it more and more difficult in judgment to detach the principle from the case; or, in practice, to determine the application of the principle to the facts. It will happen, therefore, as Mr. Coleridge used to say happened in all cases of importance, that extremes meet: for casuistical ethics will be most consulted by two classes the most opposite to each other--by those who seek excuses for evading their duties, and by those who seek a special fulness of light for fulfilling them.




Strange it is, that moral treatises, when professing to lay open the great edifice of human duties, and to expose its very foundations, should not have begun with, nay, should not have noticed at all, those duties which a man owes to himself, and, foremost amongst them, the duty of cultivating his own health. For it is evident, that, from mere neglect of that one personal duty, with the very best intentions possible, all other duties whatever may become impossible; for good intentions exist in all stages of efficiency, from the fugitive impulse to the realizing self-determination. In this life, the elementary blessing is health. What! do we presume to place it before peace of mind? Far from it; but we speak of the genesis; of the succession in which all blessings descend; not as to time, but the order of dependency. All morality implies free agency: it presumes beyond all other conditions an agent who is in perfect possession of his own volitions. Now, it is certain that a man without health is not uniformly master of his own purposes. Often he cannot be said either to be in the path of duty or out of it; so incoherent are the actions of a man forced back continually from the objects of his intellect and choice upon some alien objects dictated by internal wretchedness. It is true that, by possibility, some derangements of the human system are not incompatible with happiness: and a celebrated German author of the last century, Von Hardenberg--better known by his assumed name of Novalis--maintained, that certain modes of ill health, or valetudinarianism, were pre-requisites towards certain modes of intellectual development. But the ill health to which he pointed could not have gone beyond a luxurious indisposition; nor the corresponding intellectual purposes have been other than narrow, fleeting, and anomalous. Inflammatory action, in its earlier stages, is sometimes connected with voluptuous sensations: so is the preternatural stimulation of the liver. But these states, as pleasurable states, are transitory. All fixed derangements of the health are doubly hostile to the moral energies: first, through the intellect, which they debilitate unconsciously in many ways; and next, both consciously and semi-consciously, through the will. The judgment is, perhaps, too clouded to fix upon a right purpose: the will too enfeebled to pursue it.

Two general remarks may be applied to all, interferences of the physical with the moral sanity; 1st, That it is not so much by absolute deductions of time that ill health operates upon the serviceableness of a man, as by its lingering effects upon his temper and his animal spirits. Many a man has not lost one hour of his life from illness, whose faculties of usefulness have been most seriously impaired through gloom, or untuned feelings; 3d, That it is not the direct and known risks to our health which act with the most fatal effects, but the semi-conscious condition, the atmosphere of circumstances, with which artificial life surrounds us. The great cities of Europe, perhaps London beyond all others, under the modern modes of life and business, create a vortex of preternatural tumult, a rush and frenzy of excitement, which is fatal to far more than are heard of as express victims to that system.

The late Lord Londonderry's nervous seizure was no solitary or rare case. So much we happen to know. We are well assured by medical men of great London practice, that the case is one of growing frequency. In Lord Londonderry it attracted notice for reasons of obvious personal interest, as well as its tragical catastrophe. But the complaint, though one of modern growth, is well known, and comes forward under a most determinate type as to symptoms, among the mercantile class. The original predisposition to it, lies permanently in the condition of London life, especially as it exists for public men. But the immediate existing cause, which fires the train always ready for explosion, is invariably some combination of perplexities, such as are continually gathering into dark clouds over the heads of great merchants; sometimes only teasing and molesting, sometimes menacing and alarming. These perplexities are generally moving in counteracting paths: some progressive, some retrograde. There lies a man's safety. But at times it will happen that all comes at once; and then comes a shock such as no brain already predisposed by a London life, is strong enough (but more truly let us say--coarse enough) to support.

Lord Londonderry's case was precisely of that order: he had been worried by a long session of Parliament, which adds the crowning irritation in the interruption of sleep. The nervous system, ploughed up by intense wear and tear, is denied the last resource of natural relief. In this crisis, already perilous, a new tempest was called in--of all the most terrific--the tempest of anxiety: and from what source? Anxiety from fear, is bad: from hope delayed, is bad: but worst of all is anxiety from responsibility, in cases where disease or weakness makes a man feel that he is unequal to the burden. The diplomatic interests of the country had been repeatedly confided to Lord Londonderry: he had justified that confidence: he had received affecting testimonies of the honor which belonged to such a situation. But a short time before his fatal seizure, in passing through Birmingham at a moment when all the gentlemen of the place were assembled, he had witnessed the whole assembly--no mob, but the collective good sense of the place--by one impulse standing bareheaded in his presence,--a tribute of disinterested homage which affected him powerfully, and which was well understood as offered to his foreign diplomacy. Under these circumstances could he bear to transfer or delegate the business of future negotiation? Could he suffer to lapse into other hands, as a derelict, the consummation of that task which thus far he had so prosperously conducted? Was it in human nature to do so? He felt the same hectic of human passion which Lord Nelson felt in the very gates of death, when some act of command was thoughtlessly suggested as belonging to his successor--'Not whilst I live, Hardy; not whilst I live.' Yet, in Lord Londonderry's case, it was necessary, if he would not transfer the trust, that he should rally his enegies instantly: for a new Congress was even then assembling. There was no delay open to him by the nature of the case: the call was --now, now, just as you are, my lord, with those shattered nerves and that agitated brain, take charge of interests the most complex in Christendom: to say the truth, of interests which are those of Christendom.

This struggle, between a nervous systm too grievously shaken, and the instant demand for energy seven times intensified, was too much for any generous nature. A ceremonial embassy might have been fulfilled by shattered nerves; but not this embassy. Anxiety supervening upon nervous derangement was bad; anxiety through responsibility was worse; but through a responsibility created by grateful confidence, it was an appeal through the very pangs of martyrdom. No brain could stand such a siege. Lord Londonderry's gave way; and he fell with the tears of the generous, even where they might happen to differ from him in politics.

Meantime, this case, belonging to a class generated by a London life, was in some quarters well understood even then; now, it is well known that, had different remedies been applied, or had the sufferer been able to stand up under his torture until the cycle of the symptoms had begun to come round, he might have been saved. The treatment is now well understood; but even then it was understood by some physicians; amongst others by that Dr. Willis who had attended George III. In several similar cases overpowering doses had been given of opium, or of brandy; and usually a day or two had carried off the oppression of the brain by a tremendous reaction.

In Birmingham and other towns, where the body of people called Quakers are accumulated, different forms of nervous derangement are developed; the secret principle of which turns not, as in these London cases, upon feelings too much called out by preternatural stimulation, but upon feelings too much repelled and driven in. Morbid suppression of deep sensibilities must lead to states of disease equally terrific and perhaps even less tractable; not so sudden and critical perhaps, but more settled and gloomy. We speak not of any physical sensibilities, but of those which are purely moral--sensibilities to poetic emotions, to ambition, to social gaiety. Accordingly it is amongst the young men and women of this body that the most afflicting cases under this type occur. Even for children, however, the systematic repression of all ebullient feeling, under the Quaker discipline, must be sometimes perilous; and would be more so, were it not for that marvellous flexibility with which nature adapts herself to all changes--whether imposed by climate or by situation--by inflictions of Providence or by human spirit of system.

These cases we point to as formidable mementos, monumenta sacra, of those sudden catastrophes which either ignorance of what concerns the health, or neglect in midst of knowledge, may produce. Any mode of life in London, or not in London, which trains the nerves to a state of permanent irritation, prepares a nidus for disease; and unhappily not for chronic disease only, but for disease of that kind which finishes the struggle almost before it is begun. In such a state of habitual training for morbid action, it may happen--and often has happened--that one and the same week sees the victim apparently well and in his grave.

These, indeed, are extreme cases: though still such as threaten many more than they actually strike; for, though uncommon, they grow out of very common habits. But even the ordinary cases of unhealthy action in the system, are sufficient to account for perhaps three-fourths of all the disquiet and bad temper which disfigure daily life. Not one man in every ten is perfectly clear of some disorder, more or less, in the digestive system--not one man in fifty enjoys the absolutely normal state of that organ; and upon that depends the daily cheerfulness, in the first place, and through that (as well as by more direct actions) the sanity of the judgment. To speak strictly, not one man in a hundred is perfectly sane even as to his mind. For, though the greater disturbances of the mind do not take place in more than one man of each thousand,[Footnote: in several nations that has been found to be the average proportion of the insane. But this calculation has never been made to include all the slighter cases. It is not impossible that at some periods the whole human race may have been partially insane.] the slighter shades that settle on the judgment, which daily bring up thoughts such as a man would gladly banish, which force him into moods of feeling irritating at the moment, and wearing to the animal spirits,--these derangements are universal.

From the greater alike and the lesser, no man can free himself but in the proportion of his available knowledge applied to his own animal system, and of the surrounding circumstances, as constantly acting on that system. Would we, then, desire that every man should interrupt his proper studies or pursuits for the sake of studying medicine? Not at all: nor is that requisite. The laws of health are as simple as the elements of arithmetic or geometry. It is required only that a man should open his eyes to perceive the three great forces which support health.

They are these: 1. The blood requires exercise: 2. The great central organ of the stomach requires adaptation of diet: 3. The nervous system requires regularity of sleep. In those three functions of sleep, diet, exercise, is contained the whole economy of health. All three of course act and react upon each other: and all three are wofully deranged by a London life--above all, by a parliamentary life. As to the first point, it is probable that any torpor, or even lentor in the blood, such as scarcely expresses itself sensibly through the pulse, renders that fluid less able to resist the first actions of disease. As to the second, a more complex subject, luckily we benefit not by our own brief experience exclusively; every man benefits practically by the traditional experience of ages, which constitutes the culinary experience in every land and every household. The inheritance of knowledge, which every generation receives, as to the salubrity of this or that article of diet, operates continually in preventing dishes from being brought to table. Each man's separate experience does something to arm him against the temptation when it is offered; and again, the traditional experience far oftener intercepts the temptation. As to the third head, sleep, this of all is the most immediately fitted by nature to the relief of the brain and its exquisite machinery of nerves:--it is the function of health most attended to in our navy; and of all it is the one most painfully ravaged by a London life.

Thus it would appear, that the three great laws of health, viz., motion, rest, and temperance, (by a more adequate expression, adaptation to the organ,) are, in a certain gross way, taught to every man by his personal experience. The difficulty is--as in so many other cases--not for the understanding, but for the will--not to know, but to execute.

Now here steps in Casuistry with two tremendous suggestions, sufficient to alarm any thoughtful man, and rouse him more effectually to the performance of his duty.

First, that under the same law (whatever that law may be) which makes suicide a crime, must the neglect of health be a crime? For thus stand the two accounts:--By suicide you have cut off a portion unknown from your life: years it may be, but possibly only days. By neglect of health you have cut off a portion unknown from your life: days it may be, but also by possibility years. So the practical result may be the same in either case; or, possibly, the least is suicide. 'Yes,' you reply, 'the practical results--but not the purpose--not the intention--ergo, not the crime.' Certainly not: in the one case the result arises from absolute predetermination, with the whole energies of the will; in the other it arises in spite of your will, (meaning your choice)--it arises out of human infirmity. But still the difference is as between choosing a crime for its own sake, and falling into it from strong temptation.

Secondly, that in every case of duty unfulfilled, or duty imperfectly fulfilled, in consequence of illness, languor, decaying spirits, &c.;, there is a high probability (under the age of sixty-five almost a certainty) that a part of the obstacle is due to self-neglect. No man that lives but loses some of his time from ill health, or at least from the incipient forms of ill health--bad spirits, or indisposition to exertion. Now, taking men even as they are, statistical societies have ascertained that, from the ages of twenty to sixty-five, ill health, such as to interrupt daily labor, averages from seven days to about fourteen per annum. In the best circumstances of climate, occupation, &c.;, one fifty-second part of the time perishes to the species--in the least favorable, two such parts. Consequently, in the forty-five years from twenty to sixty-five, not very far from a year perishes on an average to every man--to some as much more. A considerable part even of this loss is due to neglect or mismanagement of health. But this estimate records only the loss of time in a pecuniary sense; which loss, being powerfully restrained by self-interest, will be the least possible under the circumstances. The loss of energy, as applied to duties not connected with any self-interest, will be far more. In so far as that loss emanates from defect of spirits, or other modes of vital torpor, such as neglect of health has either caused or promoted, and care might have prevented, in so far the omission is charged to our own responsibility. Many men fancy that the slight injuries done by each single act of intemperance, are like the glomeration of moonbeams upon moonbeams--myriads will not amount to a positive value. Perhaps they are wrong; possibly every act--nay, every separate pulse or throb of intemperate sensation--is numbered in our own after actions; reproduces itself in some future perplexity; comes back in some reversionary shape that injures the freedom of action for all men, and makes good men afflicted. At all events, it is an undeniable fact, that many a case of difficulty, which in apology for ourselves we very truly plead to be insurmountable by our existing energies, has borrowed its sting from previous acts or omissions of our own; it might not have been insurmountable, had we better cherished our physical resources. For instance, of such a man it is said--he did not assist in repelling an injury from his friend or his native land. 'True,' says his apologist, 'but you would not require him to do so when he labors under paralysis?' 'No, certainly; but, perhaps, he might not have labored under paralysis had he uniformly taken care of his health.'[Footnote: With respect to the management of health, although it is undoubtedly true that like the 'primal charities,' in the language of Wordsworth, in proportion to its importance it shines alike for all, and is diffused universally--yet not the less, in every age, some very obstinate prejudices have prevailed to darken the truth. Thus Dryden authorizes the conceit, that medicine can never be useful or requisite, because--

'God never made his work for man to mend.'

To mend! No, glorious John, neither physician nor patient has any such presumptuous fancy; we take medicine to mend the injuries produced by our own folly. What the medicine mends is not God's work, but our own. The medicine is a plus certainly; but it is a plus applied to a minus of our own introducing. Even in these days of practical knowledge, errors prevail on the subject of health which are neither trivial nor of narrow operation. Universally, the true theory of digestion, as partially unfolded in Dr. Wilson Philip's experiments on rabbits, is so far mistaken, and even inverted--that Lord Byron, when seeking a diet of easy digestion, instead of resorting to animal food broiled and underdone, which all medical men know to be the most digestible food, took to a vegetable diet, which requires a stomach of extra power. The same error is seen in the common notion about the breakfast of ladies in Elizabeth's days, as if fit only for ploughmen; whereas it is our breakfasts of slops which require the powerful organs of digestion. The same error, again, is current in the notion that a weak watery diet is fit for a weak person. Such a person peculiarly requires solid food. It is also a common mistake to suppose that, because no absolute illness is caused by daily errors of diet, these errors are practically cancelled. Cowper the poet delivers the very just opinion--that all disorders of a function (as, suppose, the secretion of bile,) sooner or later, if not corrected, cease to be functional disorders, and become organic.]

Let not the reader suspect us of the Popish doctrine, that men are to enter hereafter into a separate reckoning for each separate act, or to stand at all upon their own merits. That reckoning, we Protestants believe, no man could stand; and that some other resource must be had than any personal merits of the individual. But still we should recollect that this doctrine, though providing a refuge for past offences, provides none for such offences as are committed deliberately, with a prospective view to the benefits of such a refuge. Offend we may, and we must: but then our offences must come out of mere infirmity--not because we calculate upon a large allowance being made to us, and say to ourselves, 'Let us take out our allowance.'

Casuistry, therefore, justly, and without infringing any truth of Christianity, urges the care of health as the basis of all moral action, because, in fact, of all perfectly voluntary action. Every impulse of bad health jars or untunes some string in the fine harp of human volition; and because a man cannot be a moral being but in the proportion of his free action, therefore it is clear that no man can be in a high sense moral, except in so far as through health he commands his bodily powers, and is not commanded by them.




Suppose the case, that taking shelter from a shower of rain in a stranger's house, you discover proofs of a connection with smugglers. Take this for one pole of such case, the trivial extreme; then for the other pole, the greater extreme, suppose the case, that, being hospitably entertained, and happening to pass the night in a stranger's house, you are so unfortunate as to detect unquestionable proofs of some dreadful crime, say murder, perpetrated in past times by one of the family. The principle at issue is the same in both cases: viz., the command resting upon the conscience to forget private consideration and personal feelings in the presence of any solemn duty; yet merely the difference of degree, and not any at all in the kind of duty, would lead pretty generally to a separate practical decision for the several cases. In the last of the two, whatever might be the pain to a person's feelings, he would feel himself to have no discretion or choice left. Reveal he must; not only, if otherwise revealed, he must come forward as a witness, but, if not revealed, he must denounce--he must lodge an information, and that instantly, else even in law, without question of morality, he makes himself a party to the crime--an accomplice after the act. That single consideration would with most men at once cut short all deliberation. And yet even in such a situation, there is a possible variety of the case that might alter its complexion. If the crime had been committed many years before, and under circumstances which precluded all fear that the same temptation or the same provocation should arise again, most reflecting people would think it the better course to leave the criminal to his conscience. Often in such denunciations it is certain that human impertinence, and the spirit which sustains the habit of gossip, and mere incontinence of secrets, and vulgar craving for being the author of a sensation, have far more often led to the publication of the offence, than any concern for the interests of morality.

On the other hand, with respect to the slighter extreme--viz. in a case where the offence is entirely created by the law, with no natural turpitude about it and besides (which is a strong argument in the case) enjoying no special facilities of escaping justice--no man in the circumstances supposed would have a reason for hesitating. The laws of hospitality are of everlasting obligation; they are equally binding on the host and on the guest. Coming under a man's roof for one moment, in the clear character of guest, creates an absolute sanctity in the consequent relations which connect the parties. That is the popular feeling. The king in the old ballads is always represented as feeling that it would be damnable to make a legal offence out of his own venison which he had eaten as a guest. There is a cleaving pollution, like that of the Syrian leprosy, in the act of abusing your privileges as a guest, or in any way profiting by your opportunities as a guest to the injury of your confiding host. Henry VII. though a prince, was no gentleman; and in the famous case of his dining with Lord Oxford, and saying at his departure, with reference to an infraction of his recent statute, 'My Lord, I thank you for my good cheer, but my attorney must speak with you;' Lord Oxford might have justly retorted, 'If he does, then posterity will speak pretty plainly with your Majesty;' for it was in the character of Lord Oxford's guest that he had learned the infraction of his law. Meantime, the general rule, and the rationale of the rule, in such cases, appears to be this: Whenever there is, or can be imagined, a sanctity in the obligations on one side, and only a benefit of expediency in the obligations upon the other, the latter must give way. For the detection of smuggling, (the particular offence supposed in the case stated,) society has an express and separate machinery maintained. If their activity droops, that is the business of government. In such a case, government is entitled to no aid from private citizens; on the express understanding that no aid must be expected, has so expensive an establishment been submitted to. Each individual refuses to participate in exposure of such offences, for the same reason that he refuses to keep the street clean even before his own door--he has already paid for having such work discharged by proxy.




No case so constantly arises to perplex the conscience in private life as this--which, in principle, is almost beyond solution. Sometimes, indeed, the coarse realities of law step in to cut that Gordian knot which no man can untie; for it is an actionable offence to give a character wilfully false. That little fact at once exorcises all aerial phantoms of the conscience. True: but this coarse machinery applies only to those cases in which the servant has been guilty in a way amenable to law. In any case short of that, no plaintiff would choose to face the risks of an action; nor could he sustain it; the defendant would always have a sufficient resource in the vagueness and large latitude allowed to opinion when estimating the qualities of a servant. Almost universally, therefore, the case comes back to the forum of conscience. Now in that forum how stands the pleading? Too certainly, we will suppose, that the servant has not satisfied your reasonable expectations. This truth you would have no difficulty in declaring; here, as much as anywhere else, you would feel it unworthy of your own integrity to equivocate--you open your writing-desk, and sit down to tell the mere truth in as few words as possible. But then steps in the consideration, that to do this without disguise or mitigation, is oftentimes to sign a warrant for the ruin of a fellow-creature--and that fellow-creature possibly penitent, in any case thrown upon your mercy. Who can stand this? In lower walks of life, it is true that mistresses often take servants without any certificate of character; but in higher grades this is notoriously uncommon, and in great cities dangerous. Besides, the candidate may happen to be a delicate girl, incapable of the hard labor incident to such a lower establishment. Here, then, is a case where conscience says into your left ear--Fiat justitia, ruat caelum--'Do your duty without looking to consequences.' Meantime, into the right ear conscience says, 'But mark, in that case possibly you consign this poor girl to prostitution.' Lord Nelson, as is well known, was once placed in a dilemma equally trying;[Footnote: On the first expedition against Copenhagen, (in 1801.) He was unfortunately second in command; his principal, a brave man in person, wanted moral courage--he could not face responsibility in a trying shape. And had he not been blessed with a disobedient second in command, he must have returned home re infecta.] on one side, an iron tongue sang out from the commander-in-chief--retreat; on the other, his own oracular heart sang to him--advance. How he decided is well known; and the words in which he proclaimed his decision ought to be emblazoned for ever as the noblest of all recorded repartees. Waiving his hand towards the Admiral's ship, he said to his own officers, who reported the signal of recall--'You may see it; I cannot; you know I am blind on that side.' Oh, venerable blindness! immortal blindness! None so deaf as those who will not hear; none so gloriously blind as those who will not see any danger or difficulty--who have a dark eye on that side, whilst they reserve another blazing like a meteor for honor and their country's interest. Most of us, we presume, in the case stated about the servant, hear but the whispering voice of conscience as regards the truth, and her thundering voice as regards the poor girl's interest. In doing this, however, we (and doubtless others) usually attempt to compromise the opposite suggestions of conscience by some such jesuitical device as this. We dwell pointedly upon those good qualities which the servant really possesses, and evade speaking of any others. But how, if minute, searching and circumstantial inquiries are made by way of letter? In that case, we affect to have noticed only such as we can answer with success, passing the dangerous ones as so many rocks, sub silentio. All this is not quite right, you think, reader. Why, no; so think we; but what alternative is allowed? 'Say, ye severest, what would ye have done?' In very truth, this is a dilemma for which Casuistry is not a match; unless, indeed, Casuistry as armed and equipped in the school of Ignatius Loyola. But that is with us reputed a piratical Casuistry. The whole estate of a servant lies in his capacity of serving; and often if you tell the truth, by one word you ruin this estate for ever. Meantime, a case very much of the same quality, and of even greater difficulty, is




Any reader, who is not deeply read in the economy of English life, will have a most inadequate notion of the vast extent to which this case occurs. We are well assured, (for our information comes from quarters judicially conversant with the question,) that in no other channel of human life does there flow one-hundredth part of the forbearance and the lenity which are called into action by the relation between injured masters and their servants. We are informed that, were every third charge pursued effectually, half the courts in Europe would not suffice for the cases of criminality which emerge in London alone under this head. All England would, in the course of five revolving years, have passed under the torture of subpoena, as witnesses for the prosecution or the defence. This multiplication of cases arises from the coincidence of hourly opportunity with hourly temptation, both carried to the extreme verge of possibility, and generally falling in with youth in the offenders. These aggravations of the danger are three several palliations of the crime, and they have weight allowed to them by the indulgent feelings of masters in a corresponding degree; not one case out of six score that are discovered (while, perhaps, another six score go undiscovered) being ever prosecuted with rigor and effect.

In this universal laxity of temper lies an injury too serious to public morals; and the crime reproduces itself abundantly under an indulgence so Christian in its motive, but unfortunately operating with the full effect of genial culture. Masters, who have made themselves notorious by indiscriminate forgiveness, might be represented symbolically as gardeners watering and tending luxuriant crops of crime in hot-beds or forcing-houses. In London, many are the tradesmen, who, being reflective as well as benevolent, perceive that something is amiss in the whole system. In part the law has been to blame, stimulating false mercy by punishment disproportioned to the offence. But many a judicious master has seen cause to suspect his own lenity as more mischievously operative even than the law's hardness, and as an effeminate surrender to luxurious sensibilities. Those have not been the severest masters whose names are attached to fatal prosecutions: on the contrary, three out of four have been persons who looked forward to general consequences--having, therefore, been more than usually thoughtful, were, for that reason, likely to be more than usually humane. They did not suffer the less acutely, because their feelings ran counter to the course of what they believed to be their duty. Prosecutors often sleep with less tranquillity during the progress of a judicial proceeding than the objects of the prosecution. An English judge of the last century, celebrated for his uprightness, used to balance against that pity so much vaunted for the criminal, the duty of 'a pity to the country.' But private prosecutors of their own servants, often feel both modes of pity at the same moment.

For this difficulty a book of Casuistry might suggest a variety of resources, not so much adapted to a case of that nature already existing, as to the prevention of future cases. Every mode of trust or delegated duty would suggest its own separate improvements; but all improvements must fall under two genuine heads--first, the diminution of temptation, either by abridging the amount of trust reposed; or, where that is difficult, by shortening its duration, and multiplying the counterchecks: secondly, by the moderation of the punishment in the event of detection, as the sole means of reconciling the public conscience to the law, and diminishing the chances of impunity. There is a memorable proof of the rash extent to which the London tradesmen, at one time, carried their confidence in servants. So many clerks, or apprentices, were allowed to hold large balances of money in their hands through the intervals of their periodical settlings, that during the Parliamentary war multitudes were tempted, by that single cause, into absconding. They had always a refuge in the camps. And the loss sustained in this way was so heavy, when all payments were made in gold, that to this one evil suddenly assuming a shape of excess, is ascribed, by some writers, the first establishment of goldsmiths as bankers.[Footnote: Goldsmiths certainly acted in that capacity from an earlier period. But from this era, until the formation of the Bank of England in 1696, they entered more fully upon the functions of bankers, issuing notes which passed current in London.]

Two other weighty considerations attach to this head--1. The known fact that large breaches of trust, and embezzlements, are greatly on the increase, and have been since the memorable case of Mr. Fauntleroy. America is, and will be for ages, a city of refuge for this form of guilt. 2. That the great training of the conscience in all which regards pecuniary justice and fidelity to engagements, lies through the discipline and tyrocinium of the humbler ministerial offices--those of clerks, book-keepers, apprentices. The law acts through these offices, for the unconfirmed conscience, as leading-strings to an infant in its earliest efforts at walking. It forces to go right, until the choice may be supposed trained and fully developed. That is the great function of the law; a function which it will perform with more or less success, as it is more or less fitted to win the cordial support of masters.




Here is a special 'title,' (to speak with the civil lawyers,) under that general claim put in for England with respect to a moral pre-eminence amongst the nations. Many are they who, in regions widely apart, have noticed with honor the English superiority in the article of veneration for truth. Not many years ago, two Englishmen, on their road overland to India, fell in with a royal cortege, and soon after with the prime minister and the crown prince of Persia. The prince honored them with an interview; both parties being on horseback, and the conversation therefore reduced to the points of nearest interest. Amongst these was the English character. Upon this the prince's remark was--that what had most impressed him with respect for England and her institutions was, the remarkable spirit of truth-speaking which distinguished her sons; as supposing her institutions to grow out of her sons, and her sons out of her institutions. And indeed well he might have this feeling by comparison with his own countrymen: Persians have no principles apparently on this point--all is impulse and accident of feeling. Thus the journal of the two Persian princes in London, as lately reported in the newspapers, is one tissue of falsehoods: not, most undoubtedly, from any purpose of deceiving, but from the overmastering habit (cherished by their whole training and experience) of repeating everything in a spirit of amplification, with a view to the wonder only of the hearer. The Persians are notoriously the Frenchmen of the East; the same gaiety, the same levity, the same want of depth both as to feeling and principle. The Turks are much nearer to the English: the same gravity of temperament, the same meditativeness, the same sternness of principle. Of all European nations, the French is that which least regards truth. The whole spirit of their private memoirs and their anecdotes illustrates this. To point an anecdote or a repartee, there is no extravagance of falsehood that the French will not endure. What nation but the French would have tolerated that monstrous fiction about La Fontaine, by way of illustrating his supposed absence of mind--viz. that, on meeting his own son in a friend's house, he expressed his admiration of the young man, and begged to know his name. The fact probably may have been that La Fontaine was not liable to any absence at all: apparently this 'distraction' was assumed as a means of making a poor sort of sport for his friends. Like many another man in such circumstances, he saw and entered into the fun which his own imaginary forgetfulness produced. But were it otherwise, who can believe so outrageous a self-forgetfulness as that which would darken his eyes to the very pictures of his own hearth? Were such a thing possible, were it even real, it would still be liable to the just objection of the critics--that, being marvelous in appearance, even as a fact it ought not to be brought forward for any purpose of wit, but only as a truth of physiology, or as a fact in the records of a surgeon. The 'incredulus odi' is too strong in such cases, and it adheres to three out of every four French anecdotes. The French taste is, indeed, anything but good in all that department of wit and humor. And the ground lies in their national want of veracity. To return to England--and having cited an Oriental witness to the English character on this point, let us now cite a most observing one in the West. Kant, in Konigsberg, was surrounded by Englishmen and by foreigners of all nations--foreign and English students, foreign and English merchants; and he pronounced the main characteristic feature of the English as a nation to lie in their severe reverence for truth. This from him was no slight praise; for such was the stress he laid upon veracity, that upon this one quality he planted the whole edifice of moral excellence. General integrity could not exist, he held, without veracity as its basis; nor that basis exist without superinducing general integrity.

This opinion, perhaps, many beside Kant will see cause to approve. For ourselves we can truly say--never did we know a human being, boy or girl, who began life as an habitual undervaluer of truth, that did not afterwards exhibit a character conformable to that beginning--such a character as, however superficially correct under the steadying hand of self-interest, was not in a lower key of moral feeling as well as of principle.

But out of this honorable regard to veracity in Immanuel Kant, branched out a principle in Casuistry which most people will pronounce monstrous. It has occasioned much disputing backwards and forwards. But as a practical principle of conduct, (for which Kant meant it,) inevitably it must be rejected--if for no other reason because it is at open war with the laws and jurisprudence of all Christian Europe. Kant's doctrine was this; and the illustrative case in which it is involved, let it be remembered, is his own:--So sacred a thing, said he, is truth--that if a murderer, pursuing another with an avowed purpose of killing him, were to ask of a third person by what road the fleeing party had fled, that person is bound to give him true information. And you are at liberty to suppose this third person a wife, a daughter, or under any conceivable obligations of love and duty to the fugitive. Now this is monstrous: and Kant himself, with all his parental fondness for the doctrine, would certainly have been recalled to sounder thoughts by these two considerations--

1st. That by all the codes of law received throughout Europe, he who acted upon Kant's principle would be held a particeps criminis--an accomplice before the fact.

2d. That, in reality, a just principle is lurking under Kant's error; but a principle translated from its proper ground. Not truth, individual or personal--not truth of mere facts, but truth doctrinal--the truth which teaches, the truth which changes men and nations--this is the truth concerned in Kant's meaning, had he explained his own meaning to himself more distinctly. With respect to that truth, wheresoever it lies, Kant's doctrine applies--that all men have a right to it; that perhaps you have no right to suppose of any race or nation that it is not prepared to receive it; and, at any rate, that no circumstances of expedience can justify you in keeping it back.




Many cases arise from the life and political difficulties of Charles I. But there is one so peculiarly pertinent to an essay which entertains the general question of Casuistry--its legitimacy, its value--that with this, although not properly a domestic case, or only such in a mixed sense, we shall conclude.

No person has been so much attacked for his scruples of conscience as this prince; and what seems odd enough, no person has been so much attacked for resorting to books of Casuistry, and for encouraging literary men to write books of Casuistry. Under his suggestion and sanction, Saunderson wrote his book on the obligation of an oath, (for which there was surely reason enough in days when the democratic tribunals were forcing men to swear to an et caetera;) and, by an impulse originally derived from him, Jeremy Taylor wrote afterwards his Ductor Dubitantium, Bishop Barlow wrote his Cases of Conscience, &c.; &c.;

For this dedication of his studies, Charles has been plentifully blamed in after times. He was seeking evasions for plain duties, say his enemies. He was arming himself for intrigue in the school of Machiavel. But now turn to his history, and ask in what way any man could have extricated himself from that labyrinth which invested his path but by Casuistry. Cases the most difficult are offered for his decision: peace for a distracted nation in 1647, on terms which seemed fatal to the monarchy; peace for the same nation under the prospect of war rising up again during the Isle of Wight treaty in 1648, but also under the certainty of destroying the Church of England. On the one side, by refusing, he seemed to disown his duties as the father of his people. On the other side, by yielding, he seemed to forget his coronation oath, and the ultimate interests of his people--to merge the future and the reversionary in the present and the fugitive. It was not within the possibilities that he could so act as not to offend one half of the nation. His dire calamity it was, that he must be hated, act how he would, and must be condemned by posterity. Did his enemies allow for the misery of this internal conflict? Milton, who never appears to more disadvantage than when he comes forward against his sovereign, is indignant that Charles should have a conscience, or plead a conscience, in a public matter. Henderson, the celebrated Scotch theologian, came post from Edinburgh to London (whence he went to Newcastle) expressly to combat the king's scruples. And he also (in his private letters) seems equally enraged as Milton, that Charles should pretend to any private conscience in a state question.

Now let us ask--what was it that originally drove Charles to books of Casuistry? It was the deep shock which he received, both in his affections and his conscience, from the death of Lord Strafford. Every body had then told him, even those who felt how much the law must be outraged to obtain a conviction of Lord Strafford, how many principles of justice must be shaken, and how sadly the royal word must suffer in its sanctity,--yet all had told him that it was expedient to sacrifice that nobleman. One man ought not to stand between the king and his alienated people. It was good for the common welfare that Lord Strafford should die. Charles was unconvinced. He was sure of the injustice; and perhaps he doubted even of the expedience. But his very virtues were armed against his peace. In all parts of his life self-distrust and diffidence had marked his character. What was he, a single person, to resist so many wise counsellors, and what in a representative sense was the nation ranged on the other side? He yielded: and it is not too much to say that he never had a happy day afterwards. The stirring period of his life succeeded--the period of war, camps, treaties. Much time was not allowed him for meditation. But there is abundant proof that such time as he had, always pointed his thoughts backwards to the afflicting case of Lord Stratford. This he often spoke of as the great blot--the ineffaceable transgression of his life. For this he mourned in penitential words yet on record. To this he traced back the calamity of his latter life. Lord Stratford's memorable words--'Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of princes,'--rang for ever in his ear. Lord Stafford's blood lay like a curse upon his throne.

Now, by what a pointed answer, drawn from this one case, might Charles have replied to the enemies we have noticed--to those, like so many historians since his day, who taxed him with studying Casuistry for the purposes of intrigue--to those, like Milton and Henderson, who taxed him with exercising his private conscience on public questions.

'I had studied no books of Casuistry,' he might have replied, 'when I made the sole capital blunder in a case of conscience, which the review of my life can show.

'I did not insist on my private conscience; woe is me that I did not: I yielded to what was called the public conscience in that one case which has proved the affliction of my life, and which, perhaps, it was that wrecked the national peace.'

A more plenary answer there cannot be to those who suppose that Casuistry is evaded by evading books of Casuistry. That dread forum of conscience will for ever exist as a tribunal of difficulty. The discussion must proceed on some principle or other, good or bad; and the only way for obtaining light is by clearing up the grounds of action, and applying the principles of moral judgment to such facts or circumstances as most frequently arise to perplex the understanding, or the affections, or the conscience.

[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's Essay: Casuistry