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When the measure of punishment exceeds the offence, the laws are in contradiction to our natural sense of equity, and a hostile feeling towards them is excited, innocent and even honourable in its origin, but dangerous in its consequences. On the other hand, the laws are brought into contempt when they neither tend to reform the offender, nor in the slightest degree to prevent him from repeating the offence. It is not our present intention to inquire how far our laws are faulty in either respect, but we will venture to point out a very easy, and at the same time a very necessary and material reform. We venture to ask whether it be absolutely necessary that so many loop-holes should be left for the escape of guilt? Whether the purposes of justice are not sacrificed to the technicalities of law, which is sacrificing the end to the means? and whether the weight which is allowed to flaws and informalities in the practice of our courts, and the importance which is attached to things so utterly insignificant in themselves, be a whit more honourable to the profession of the law, than the grossest quackery is to the science of medicine?
The evil will be more clearly understood by general readers, and may perhaps strike professional ones more forcibly, if a few cases be stated to exemplify it. Some years ago a man was tried for forgery; the fact was proved against him, and his condemnation would have been certain, had it not been perceived just in time that his Christian name, which happened to be Bartholomew, had been abbreviated in the indictment. It was one of those cases, we believe, in which no person, not even the prosecutors themselves, could be sorry that the prisoner escaped; this however was merely accidental, and matters nothing to the point before us. There was no doubt of the man's identity, there was no doubt of his guilt; and what did it signify in the eyes of justice, or of common sense, whether his Christian name were written at full length or not? In a more recent case, a flaw of the same kind, and if possible still more contemptible, sufficed to save an offender from punishment, where there was certainly no room for compassion. The crime was the odious one of writing letters to threaten the life of a timid and defenceless woman, for the purpose of extorting money from her, and that too under circumstances of peculiar aggravation; and the guilty party was acquitted because the phrase by-nights in the letter had been written by night in the indictment! It might be expected that so flagrant an instance as this would have excited the attention of the legislature, and that paltry pedantries would no longer have been suffered to disgrace our courts by frustrating the very purpose for which laws were instituted. It is not long since an attempt was made to invalidate an inderture, because, though perfect in all its parts, the paper upon which it was
written was straight at the top! The judge, upon hearing the ohjection, desired to look at the deed, and taking his scissars from his pocket, be quietly zigzagged it, and returned it to the party by whom the quibble had been started, as a valid instrument. there any imaginable reason why such flaws as those which we have instanced, should not in like manner be amended upon the spot, or overlooked, as unworthy. even of the expense of time in amending them? Let us also be permitted to hint, as an additional reason for correcting this abuse, how possible it is that such flaws may not always be accidental.
Connected with this subject, there is another point which requires notice. Any person who can invent a new method of defrauding either individuals or the public may, in the present state of things, enjoy the fruits of his ingenuity with perfect safety, till a law be made, declaring the new invention to be criminal. The reader will recollect the case of Mr. Aslett. A more recent one is that of a stationer who prepared paper of extreme thinness in such a manner that when it was stamped, one stamp sufficed for three sheets, and the sheets being afterwards separated, the revenue was thus defrauded of two parts in three : when the trick was detected, it could not be punished, because no such fraud had been foreseen. And in the case of that nefarious manufactory of tea which has lately been brought to light, the persons upon whom the wholesale stock of the poisonous preparation was found, were liable to no punishment, because it could not be proved that they traded in the article. Surely such cases might be reached by some general provision. Nice points of casuistry are intrusted to our juries, such as were never contemplated when juries were instituted; cases of fraud are too palpable to be mistaken by them; and all minor degrees of punishment might safely be left to the discretion of the judge.
These indeed are not the reforms by which popularity is to be courted, and which the professors of humanity are ambitious of bringing forward; but they are among the means by which the only real reformation is to be effected; they are among the means by wbich the laws may be made more effectual, and criminals more sure of conviction and correction. Nor can it be doubted but that real reformation would be facilitated by the preventive measures upon which we have enlarged, and which it is in the power of the magistrates, the clergy, and the parochial officers to execute. From such measures, simple and easy as they are, the greatest good may be expected ;-but more especially from general education, and most of all from careful religious instruction, without which education will be worse than useless. It is our business to sow the seed, and weed the ground well; we may then look with full assurance for the barvest. Let us do our duty in enacting new laws where they are needful, and enforcing those which the wisdom of our ancestors has provided : we may then, to use the happy language of an old chronicler, trust that all things may continually amend from evil to good, from good to better, and from better to the best.'
Art. IV. Letters from the Hon. Horace Walpole to George
Montagu, Esq. from the year 1736 to 1770. WE
E have here another volume of Letters, from an author who
may decidedly claim pre-eminence for ease and liveliness of expression, terseness of remark, and felicity of narration, above almost all the letter-writers of Britain. The peculiarities and even the foibles of Horace Walpole's character were such as led to excellence in this style of composition; and, although his correspondence has not always taught us to respect the man, the writer seldom fails to amuse us.
We know little of Horace Walpole's character but what his works and his letters lead us to infer, and these present extraordinary and strangely blended features. He was in politics, by principle, personal and hereditary, a determined Whig; yet no man seems to have held the profane vulgar in such sacred and aristocratic horror. In this particular, as in some others, he seems rather to have felt like a French noble than like an Englishman of rank. This contempt for the vulgar would naturally have been associated with the corresponding ambition of a man of family and fashion to distinguish himself at court; and it may be esteemed a contradiction, that Horace Walpole, the son of a prime minister, vain of his rank in society, should have spent the greater part of his life in the lists of opposition. Here, however, his Whig principles thwarted a strong natural propensity to breathe court air; for while he expatiates with ill-concealed complacency on the necessity of attending the Princess Amelia, and receiving the Duke of Cumberland or Duke of York, he finds it necessary to veil the glow of satisfied vanity with an affectation of ruffled philosophy and disturbed retirement.
• I will tell you how the calamity befel me, though you will laugh instead of pitying me. Last Friday morning, I was very tranquilly writing my Anecdotes of Painting-1 heard the bell at the gate ringI called out, as usual, “Not at home;" but Harry, who thought it would be treason to tell a lie, when he saw red liveries, owned I was, and came running up, “ Sir, the prince of Wales is at the door, and says, he is come on purpose to make you a visit!” There was I, in the utmost confusion, undressed, in my slippers, and with my hair about my ears; there was no help, insanum vatem aspiciet—and down I went to receive him. Him was the duke of York. Behold my breeding of the old court; at the foot of the stairs I kneeled down, and kissed his hand. I beg your uncle Algernon Sidney's pardon, but I could not let the second prince of the blood kiss my hand first. He was, as he always is, extremely good humoured ; and I, as I am not always, extremely respectful. '- p. 210.
Upon reading these and similar details, we are tempted to doubt the latter part of the author's assertion, that his behaviour at court consisted in mixing 'extreme politeness with extreme indifference, and that, instead of the manner of the ancient philosophers, who knew not how to be disinterested without being brutal, he piqued himself on founding a new sect, who should tell kings, with excess of attention, that they don't want them, and despise favour with more good breeding than others practise in suing for it.' Notwithstanding protestations so earnestly and ostentatiously repeated, it requires but little knowledge of the human breast to observe that the royalties,' as he calls bis intercourse with those illustrious persons, came much more home to his bosom than he was willing his correspondents should perceive. To this indeed it may be replied, that Walpole's rank, as well as the society in which he lived, made this intercourse with royalty both a natural occupation of his time and a fitting subject of his correspondence. But he was not satisfied to mention these things simply and without affectation, assigning them just the weight and importance which they deserve, but by labouring to persuade his correspondents that be regarded them with contempt, he took the strongest mode of showing that he set too high a value on them. We think, too, that his principles of liberty would have been as purely illustrated without his perpetual and cold-hearted sneers at the death of Charles I. or that of Mary Stuart, for the last of which the warmest apologists have only rested their plea on that foundation of all political crimes, state-necessity.
There is something similar to this inconsistency in the affected contempt in which Walpole pretended to hold authors and men of learning, while he himself panted to share the honours they aspired to, and was perpetually on the stretch to obtain them. In this struggle he made great exertions, and evinced respectable talents. But the same affectation of contempt for what he really valued, which we have already noticed in another part of his character, prevented him from giving them fair play. He appears to have longed to step on the stage like Nero, clothed in purple, and holding a harp wrought with gold and ivory, and to have desired to arrogate the prize as due to the condescension which induced un homme tel que lui to give himself the trouble of making an effort to obtain it. Vanity, when it unfortunately gets possession of.a wise man's head, is as keenly sensible of ridicule, as it is impassible to its shafts when more appropriately lodged with a fool. Of the sensitiveness arising out of this foible Walpole seems to have had a great deal, and it certainly dictated those hardhearted reproofs that repelled the warm effusions of friendship with which poor Madame du Defland (now old and blind) addressed him, and of which he complained with the utmost indignation, merely because, if her letters were opened by a clerk at the postoffice, such expressions of kindness might expose him to the ridicule of which he had such undue terror.
The same sensitive vanity dictated his conduct as a literary character. He affected to whistle his fugitive pieces down the wind to take their fortune, while in fact he watched their fate with all the jealous feelings of authorship. His correspondence with David Hume, on the subject of bis · Historic Doubts,' as he modestly entitled his curious remarks on the History of Richard III., is a remarkable example of this duplicity. He commences by inviting strictures and commentaries with an air of the most insidious modesty and gentlemanlike indifference for literary character; but when his hypothesis is impugned, he defends it not only with vigour but with obstinacy, and manifests considerable irritation at the opposition of the historian. In short, his predominant foible seems to have been vanity-a vanity which unfortunately required to be gratified more ways than one, and the appetite of which for popular applause was checked by a contrary feeling, similar to that ridiculed by Prince Hal, when he asks Poins whether it doth not show vilely in a prince like him, to thirst after the poor creature small beer? It was perhaps in order to indulge both his love of rank and literature, without derogating, (as Cloton has it that he wrote his Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors,' a work which might have diminished one article of his vanity, for to no equal number of writers, selected upon any other given principle, can there be ascribed such abundance of platitude and inanity.
Vanity is generally selfish, and we cannot altogether acquit Horace Walpole of this additional foible. As he loved learning, with a contempt, real or affected, for those who make it their pursuit, so he admired art without any wish to befriend or encourage living genius. The present work, as well as the former volumes, present too many instances of narrowness on this subject. In the following passage there appears a whimsical struggle betwixt the desire to possess a copy of a picture in enamel of the Duchesse de Grammont and the wish to screw it out of an artist of eminence at as low a rate as possible :
I am disposed to prefer the younger picture of Madame Grammont by Lely, but I stumbled at the price ; twelve guineas for a copy