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eloquent orator. “ If any wicked persons,” says he, “seem to themselves sufficiently fenced and guarded against the danger of having their crimes known by other men, they yet dread the power of the gods, and they believe that the anxieties which prey upon their minds, whole nights and whole days, are sent by the immortal gods for the purpose of punishment." *
Happen, says a sage of the stoical school, it may to a wicked man to be concealed, but reliance on the continuance of concealment cannot happen to him. Thus stands the fact. Crimes may be safe from the arrival of actual evil, but secure from the dread of evil they cannot be. And why? Because conscience convicts them of guilt, and shews them to themselves. It is the peculiar and unalterable lot of the wicked to tremble.fo The statement of this illustrious moralist deserves to be expanded. Chance, by which is meant an incalculable, inexplicable, uncontrolable series of events, may save a wicked man from the scourge of punishment and the howl of infamy; but no chance, however favourable ; no precaution, however circumspect; no exertion, however intense, can preserve him from the dark presages, the excruciating corrosions, the debilitating and bewildering depressions of dismay.
* Quod si qui satis sibi contra hominum conscientiam septi esse, et muniti videntur, deorum tamen numina horrent, easque ipsas solicitudines, quibus eorum animi nocteis atque dies exeduntur, a diis immortalibus supplicii causa importari putant. Cic. de finibus, lib. i. parag. 16. + Potest nocenti contingere ut lateat, latendi fides non potest ;
Ita est, tuta scelera esse possunt, secura non possunt. Ideo nunquam
fides latendi fit etiam latentibus : quia coarguit illos conscientia, et ipsos sibi ostendit. Proprium autem est nocentium trepidare.-Senecæ Epistola 97.
Among the adages the origin of which can be traced to no celebrated individual, and the truth of which is instaneously admitted by all men in a state of society, one has been preserved by a pre-eminent judge in the beauties of composition, the principles of ethics, and the occurrences of common life. “ Conscientia,” says Quinctilian,“ mille testes," and the reason is obvious. Amidst a thousand witnesses, some may be rash, some may be prejudiced, some may be at variance with each other. But how stands the testimony of conscience, as contrasted with the testimony of a thousand witnesses? As to rashness, we have the opposite feeling of reluctance to suffer the pains of reproach from conscience. As to prejudice, the bearings of the mind lie the other way; for the prejudice is always in favour of ourselves, and leads us to extenuate, so far as we can, our own misdoings. As to variance, our hearts seldom fail to tell us the same uniform tale ; and if, in some particulars, there should be defects in memory, the intenseness of our feeling is amply sufficient to make us acquainted with our guilt, while we attend, as we sometimes must, to the voice of conscience. Never does it reproach us with that which we have not done; and though one train of circumstances may, for a season, make us insensible to what we have done, there is usually in reserve another train of circumstances, which, with our will, or against it, sets before us the plain truth.
Glowing is the description which a celebrated
poet of antiquity has given us of a wretch smarting under the load of his sins :
At night, should care permit the wretch to doze,
Should rank disease invade yon panting crew,
Prompt, as must be your assent; and lively, as must be your sympathy with the writer of the passage just now read to you, I have no hesitation in saying, that in propriety of topics, in vigour of diction, and in solemnity of spirit, it has been surpassed by a dramatic poet of our own country, whose statement must convince every understanding, and interest every heart:
“ Tremble, thou wretch,
These dreadful summoners' mercy!” Such are the stings of conscious guilt, and such too is the victory, which nature will ultimately obtain over every attempt that may be made to stifle her voice, when she would proclaim to us our sinfulness and our danger.
In most impassioned language, an ancient writer of tragedy has displayed the power of conscience in a case of involuntary transgression.
By a train of unforeseen circumstances, Edipus discovered that in a fortuitous struggle he had slain his father, whom he supposed to be a stranger, and had taken his mother to the nuptial-bed. Without insisting on the plea of ignorance; without accepting the dutiful and affectionate sympathies of his weeping daughters ; without contrasting the meritorious services which he had rendered his country with his own errors, or, as he thought them, misdeeds in private life, he stood aghast at the complicated guilt of parricide and incest; and in the hope of expiating his crimes he descended from the throne, he deprived himself of eye-sight, and was content for the remainder of his miserable existence to become a wandering exile in a foreign land.
Our instinctive abhorrence of wickedness, and the unavoidable disquietude of those, who think themselves chargeable with it, are to be seen in the conduct and the fate of the unhappy Jocasta. After a series of proofs, which put beyond all doubt the reality of her marriage with a son, her pure and lofty spirit disdained to look for an apology in the consideration that unintentionally and ignorantly she had been betrayed into incest. In the tears and the moans of a beloved daughter, she saw so many witnesses against herself, she became impatient of reflection, she became incapable of solace, she became weary of existence; and, hastening to a recess in the palace, she perished by her own hands.
While the affections are not interested by events which relate to our own duty, and our own welfare, the ingenuity of the poet in ideal scenes, and the subtlety of the theorist upon supposed cases, will readily supply numberless circumstances of extenuation which command our assent in the closet. But in real life, the testimony of nature will sooner or later be heard, and conscience will assert her rights in opposition to all the specious representations which beguile us, where, with equal impunity, we might be candid or severe, because we are forming a judgment upon the condition and the conduct of other men, and are acted upon by no motives to measures of which the issues concern ourselves.
Now, whatsoever may have been the efficacy of the general sentiment, as it prevailed in the heathen