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Rome, such regulations, after many abuses, will sink into contempt.
Two errors, which infested morality in dark times, have occafioned much injustice; and I am not certain, that they are yet entirely eradicated. The first is an opinion, That an action derives its quality of right and wrong from the event, without regard to intention. The other is, That the end justifies the means; or, in other words, That means otherwise unlawful, may be lawfully employ'd to bring about a good end. With an account of these two errors, I shall close the present historical sketch.
That intention is the circumstance which qualifies an action and its author, to be criminal or innocent, is made evident in the first part of the present sketch; and is now admitted to be so by every moral writer. But rude and barbarous nations feldom carry their thoughts beyond what falls under their external senses: they conclude an action to be right that happens to do good, and an action to be wrong that happens to do harm; without ever thinking of motives, of Will, of intention, or of any circumstance that is not
obvious to eye-fight. From many passages in the Old Testament it appears, that the external act only, with its consequences, was regarded. Ifaac, imitating his father Abraham, made his wife Rebecca pass for his fifter. Abimelech, King of the Philistines, having discovered the imposture, said to Isaac, “What is this thou “ hast done unto us? One of the people
might lightly have lien with thy wife, " and thou shouldst have brought guilti
ness upon us (a).” Jonathan was condemned to die for transgressing a prohibition he had never heard of (6). A fin of ignorance, i.e. an action done without ill. intention, required a sacrifice of expiation (c). Saul, defeated by the Philistines, fell on his own sword: the wound not being mortal, he prevailed on a young Amalekite, to pull out the sword, and to dispatch him with it. Josephus (d) says, that David ordered the criminal to be delivered up to justice as a regicide.
The Greeks appear to have wavered greatly about intention, sometimes holding it essential to a crime, and sometimes
(a) Genesis, chap. 26. (6) 1 Samuel, xiv. 44. (c) Leviticus, chap. 4.
(d) Book 3. of Antiquities.
disregarding it as a circumstance of no moment. Of these contradictory opinions, we have pregnant evidence in the two tragedies' of Oedipus; the first taking it for granted, that a crime consists entirely in the external act and its consequences; the other holding intention to be indifpensable. Oedipus had killed his father Laius, and married his mother Jocasta; but without any criminal intention, being ignorant of his relation to them. And yet history informs us, that the gods punished the Thebans with pestilence, for fuffering a wretch so grossly criminal to live. Sophocles, author of both tragedies, puts the following words in the mouth of Tiresias the prophet.
And that doctrine is espoused by Aristotle in a later period; who holding Oedipus to have been deeply criminal, tho' without intention, is of opinion, that a more proper subject for tragedy never was brought upon the stage. Nay as a philo
fopher he talks currently of an involuntary crime. Orestes, in Euripides, acknowledges himself to be guilty in killing his mother; yet aflerts with the same breath, that his crime was inevitable, a necessary crime, a crime commanded by religion.
In Oedipus Coloneus, the other tragedy mentioned, a very different opinion is maintained. A defence is made for that unlucky man, agreeable to sound moral principles; that, having had no bad intention, he was entirely innocent; and that his misfortunes ought to be ascribed to the wrath of the gods.
Thou who upbraid'st me thus for all my woes,
And guiltless woman! afterwards my wife,
Again, in the fourth act, the following prayer is put up
put up for Oedipus by the cho
That not oppress’d by tort'ring pain,
The audience was the same in both plays. Did they think Oedipus to be guilty in the one play, and innocent in the other? If they did not, how could both plays be relished ? if they did, they must have been grossly stupid.
The statues of a Roman Emperor were held so facred, that to treat thein with