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lover of philanthropy and extended policy, and will, I trust, persevere with a continuance of hope,
even though hope be lost.” It is a bad symptom of the times, that such arguments, as were used against him, should prevail. Though it be dangerous to level to the ground, and build anew, and though rash innovation ought to be avoided, yet it is a contemptible narrowness to go to the contrary extreme, and refuse every amelioration.
It would be presumptuous to attempt to add new force to the arguments of Dr. Johnson, to which Lord Holland so handsomely referred. The Idler is a work of too general circulation to require a reference to the subject which the great moralist has discussed, or to copy many of its passages. But there is a part so directly applicable as a reply to the arguments of a noble Lord, that even from this common book I cannot refrain from repeating a few sentences of such inexpressible importance.
“ To the relief of this distress, no other objection can be made, but that by an easy dissolution of debts, fraud will be left without punishment and imprudence without awe, and that, when insolvency shall be no longer punishable, credit will cease.
6 The motive to credit is the hope of advantage. Commerce can never be at a stop, while one man wants what another can supply; and credit will never be denied, while it is likely to be repaid with profit. He, that trusts one, whom he designs to sue, is criminal by the act of trust; the cessation of such insidious traffic is to be desired, and no reason can be given, why a change of the law should impair any other. We see nation trade with nation, where
no payment can be compelled. Mutual convenience produces mutual confidence; and the merchants continue to satisfy the demands of each other, though they have nothing to dread but the loss of trade. It is vain to continue an institution, which experience shews to be ineffectual. We have now imprisoned one generation of debtors after another, but we do not find that their numbers lessen. We have now learned that rashness and imprudence will not be deterred from taking credit! Let us try, whether fraud and avarice may be more easily restrained from giving it!"*
It has been often observed, that the same violence, the same indiscriminate view of things, which, when out of power, attacks every thing, when in power, defends any thing. The philosophy of legislation is indeed a far different and loftier attainment, than that technical skill which applies with tolerable correctness that which has been enacted. How wofully do men expose the narrowness of their intellectual faculties and acquirements, when they venture beyond the file of authorities, into the expanded field of principles ! It belongs to the few, to whom nature has been more prodigal, to unite the mastery of both.
Many things, which have been long established, are indeed founded on better reasons than we may at first perceive: and the annihilation of them would perhaps create chasms and inconveniencies, not foreseen. But, on the other hand, it is perfectly ludicrous to suppose that every thing has arrived at perfection, and that no amelioration in any part of our ancient institutions is requisite. Many corruptions have gradually grown up with the progress of time: and many provisions have long outlasted their causesand though originally wise, are become, by change of circumstances, highly injurious. Are we to be such bigotted admirers of antiquity, as, to endure them all without an attempt at amendment? But when the cause of humanity is at stake; when liberty, the most precious of our natural and civil rights is in question, we cannot hear without horror obsolete arguments and pedantic authorities pleaded as reasons for continuing a cruel, senseless, and intolerable grievance; which puts the thoughtless and unsuspicious in the power of the revengeful, the avaricious, and the extortionate, which has the most direct tendency to defeat the purpose it pretends to have in view; which makes poverty a crime, and places the unfortunate in the society of the felon; which feeds the worst passions of the relentless creditor; and hardens the tender heart of adversity into wretchedness or despair !
* See the Idler, No. 22 and No. 38.
Better were it a thousand times that credit should be annihilated, and commerce itself perish, than be encouraged by means like these! The debtors who encumber our prisons are the disgrace of our police. The abuses by which their debts have been swelled, and the inexpressibly detestable practices by which their confinement is aggravated, must fill every feeling mind with a degree of indignation above the power of language to paint. If Lord Moira had no other claims to public approbation, this alone would stamp bis merit. He is too noble to be
discouraged in his honourable undertaking by temporary opposition. And let the virtuous spirit of Lord Holland recollect that he will add new laurels, to those acquired by his honourable pursuits, by this new effort of his cultivated mind. It becomes a man like him, who adorns his station with the flowers of literary genius, thus to tread in the steps of his great uncle! These are the most grateful offerings, which he can strew on his mighty relative’s grave! I am not ashamed to say this, in defiance of the opposi. tion I feel to his political attachments.
March 17, 1808.
Scott's Romance of Marmion.
While a wanton departure from ancient models is liable to just censure, a servile adherence to them is still more offensive. On one hand a grace may be snatched beyond the reach of art; on the other, every thing must be dull and creeping. We are apt to think highly of the ages that are past, and to complain mechanically of the dearth of genius in
In the poetical world seldom has the complaint been more ill founded than at present. As I would scorn to let envy suppress the praise of my cotemporaries, so would I scorn to sacrifice my sincerity for the purpose of flattering any one. From my heart I believe, that, though in these days we neither possess a Shakspeare, a Spenser, nor a Milton, yet seldom have we had such a galaxy of genuine poets as at present adorn this country. A due regard to delicacy, and the just feelings of individuals, precludes me from a regular enumeration of them. But a poem, which has been published in the
present month, has filled me with delight so singular in its kind, and so high in its degree, that I will not
generous emotion of gratitude that impels me to record my pleasure. Mr. Walter Scott's Romance of Marmion, a Tale of Floddon Field, contains a series of Introductory Epistles, novel in their kind, and as highly poetical and attractive as they
The author has given its free and natural range to a mind most richly and exquisitely adorned with all the feelings and images of genuine poetry. How enchantingly, and with what ease and grace he exercises the wand of the magician, and brings before us the varied and changing creations of a moral, sentimental, and picturesque fancy, will be better felt than expressed by every reader of taste and sensibility! Poetry here appears in its natural shape, uncramped by rules, and unfettered by proto-types.
Mason, I think, somewhere says, that what is easy reading is not easy writing. The remark has always struck me as singularly unhappy. Studied writings never pursue the natural association of ideas, and are therefore seldom perused without labour, and deliberate attention. The intermediate links are imperceptibly dropped by the painful composer ; and all that freshness and raciness, which finds an instant mirror in every mind, is gone. Dr. Warton