Page images

high forehead, the regular features, and the pure complexion of the English settler.-To revert to Mr. Saurin, (from whom I ought not, perhaps, to have deviated so far), there is still greater distinctness, as should be the case, from their proximity to their source, in the descendants from the French Protestants who obtained an asylum in Ireland. The Huguenot is stamped upon them; I can read in their faces not only the relics of their country, but of their religion. They are not only Frenchmen in colour, but Calvinists in expression. They are serious, grave, and almost sombre, and have even a shade of fanaticism diffused over the worldliness by which they are practically characterised. Mr. Saurin is no fanatic; on the contrary, I believe that his only test of the true religion, is the law of the land. He does not belong to the "Saint party," nor is he known by the sanctimonious avidity by which that pious and rapacious body is distinguished at the Irish Bar. Still there is a touch of John Calvin upon him, and he looks the fac-simile of an old Protestant professor of logic whom I remember to have seen in one of the colleges at Nismes.

I have enlarged upon the figure and aspect of this eminent Barrister, because they intimate much of his mind. In his capacity as an advocate in a court of equity, he deserves great encomium. He is not a great case-lawyer. He is not like Serjeant Lefroy, an ambulatory index of discordant names; he is stored with knowledge: principle is not merely deposited in his memory, but inlaid and tesselated in his mind it. enters into his habitual thinking. No man is better versed in the art of putting facts: he brings with a peculiar felicity and skill the favourable parts of his client's case into prominence, and shews still. greater acuteness in suppressing or glossing over whatever may be prejudicial to his interests. He invests the most hopeless, and I will even add, the most dishonest cause, with a most deceitful plausibility -and the total absence of all effort, and the ease and apparent sincerity of his manner, give him at times a superiority even to Plunket himself, who, by the energy into which he is hurried at moments by his more ardent and eloquent temperament, creates a suspicion that it must be a bad cause which requires so much display of power. In hearing the latter, you are perpetually thinking of him and his faculties; in hearing Saurin, you remember nothing but the cause-he disappears in the facts. Saurin also shews singular tact in the management of the Court. The Lord Chancellor is actually bewildered by Plunket it his from his Lordship's premises that he argues against him; he entangles him in a net of sophistry wrought out of his own suggestion. This is not very agreeable to human vanity, and Chancellors are men. Saurin, on the other hand, accommodates himself to every view of the Court. He gently and insensibly conducts his Lordship to a conclusion-Plunket precipitates him into it at once. But Lord Manners struggles hard upon the brink, and often escapes from his grasp. In this facility of adaptation to the previous opinions and character of the judge whom he addresses, I consider Saurin as perhaps the most useful advocate in the Court of Chancery-at the same time, in reach of thought, variety of attribute, versatility of resource, and power of diction, he is far inferior to his distinguished successor in office. But Plunket is a senator and a statesman, and Saurin is a lawyer-not a mere one indeed; but the legal faculty is greatly predo

minant in his mind. His leisure has never been dedicated to the acquisition of scientific knowledge, nor has he sought a relaxation from his severer occupations in the softness of the politer arts. His earliest tastes and predilections were always in coincidence with his profession. Free from all literary addiction, he not only did not listen to, but never heard the solicitations of the Muse. Men with the strongest passion for higher and more elegant enjoyments have frequently repressed that tendency, from a fear that it might lead them from the pursuit of more substantial objects. But it was not necessary that Mr. Saurin should stop his ears against the voice of the syren-he was born deaf to her enchantments. I believe that this was a sort of good fortune in his nature. Literary accomplishments are often of prejudice, and very seldom of any utility at the Bar. The profession itself may occasionally afford a respite from its more rigid avocations, and invite of its own accord to a temporary deviation from its more dreary pursuits. There are moments in which a familiarity with the great models of eloquence and of high thinking may be converted into use. But a lawyer like Mr. Saurin will think, and wisely perhaps, that the acquisition of the embellishing faculties is seldom attended with a sufficiently frequent opportunity for their display,' to compensate for the dangers of the deviation which they require from the straight-forward road to professional eminence, and will pursue his progress, like the American traveller, who, in journeying through his vast prairies, passes, without regard, the fertile landscapes which occasionally lie adjacent to his way, and never turns from his track for the sake of the rich fruits and the refreshing springs of those romantic recesses, which, however delicious they may appear, may bewilder him in a wilderness of sweets, and lead him for ever astray from the final object of his destination.


O! beauteous are the angel-forms that rise,
In snowy marble, o'er the warrior's grave;-
And beauteously smiles ocean, when it lies
With evening's blushes tinging its calm wave.
And, far more beautiful, the meteor's flight,
Flashing around its rosy radiance, seems :-
Yet, pure as angels calm as ocean-bright

As meteors-are this lucid gem's sweet beams.—
And can those heavenly sculptures charm, the while
We think beneath them lie the cankering dead?
Or can we trust that tranquil ocean's smile?

Or love the meteor-light, so quickly fled ?
All are illusive and art thou like them,

Pure, smiling, radiant Lelia ?-no; thou art the gem! C. L.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

I INTENDED to have addressed this essay to Posterity, but I recollected the sarcasm levelled against the French author who dedicated an ode to the same personage-that it would never reach its destination; besides, I may enquire with the Irishman, "What has Posterity ever done for us?" and why should we throw away good advice, which will be probably unheard by the party for whom it is intended, and will be certainly unmerited? As to Antiquity-the stream of time is the only one that cannot be navigated both ways; there is no steam-boat that can work against wind and tide, and carry a passenger or a letter back to the fountain-head of events, or even to the last landmark that we passed in our voyage to the great ocean of Eternity. To say the truth, I have no respect whatever for that solemn bugbear, that shadowy quack, yclept Antiquity, whom I have always contemplated as a very grave impostor and reverend humbug (begging pardon for such a conjunction of phrases); and as to the good old times, of which every body talks so much and knows so little, which, like the horizon, keep flying farther backwards as we attempt to approach them, I suspect that if we could once pounce upon them and subject them to our inspection, we should find them to be the very worst times possible. The golden age is as much a fable as the golden fleece, or, if reducible to some rude elements of truth, they would not be much more magnificent than the celebrated Argonautic prize, which, divested of its poetical embellishments, was nothing more than an old sheepskin stretched across the river Phasis, to catch the particles of ore rolled down by its waters. This cant is regularly transmitted from generation to generation, and may be traced back to the revival of literature*; so that if there be any truth in the tradition, this past millennium must have flourished in the dark ages, and have expired without leaving a record of its existence. It is flattering to human pride to indulge in reveries of former happiness and perfection, because they infer a probability of their future recurrence; hence it is, that, not content with assigning a higher moral stature to our ancestors, we cling to the belief of their gigantic proportions, despite of the evidence of history, of skeletons, and of Egyptians embalmed many centuries before our æra, who must have been a very diminutive race, unless they have shrunk terribly in the pickling.

Bacon has exposed the egregious mistake, which, by confounding the world's duration with the successions of men, induces us to call those the old times in which the oldest writers and legislators flourished, and leads us by analogy to attribute to the world's infancy and inexperience that reverence which we properly feel for the wisdom of individual age.

* Horace bewailed the human declension of his time, and, prophesying its continuance, anticipated that his contemporaries were "mox daturos progeniem vitiosiorem." The learned Poggio, who was so instrumental in the revival of leterts, noticing the prevalence of the same conceit in his days, says,-" Nature always preserves a certain degree of motion, and it is the same in human nature. To pretend that the world is perpetually getting worse, is a declamation unsupported by any historical examination of different ages.'


The times in which we live are in reality the oldest; and if mere antiquity deserve our homage, let us pay it to the existing generation, for we are the real Simon Pures, and the ancients were but the sucklings and children of the world's growth. If wisdom were occasionally ordained out of their mouths, we possess it superadded to our own, with all the experience of the intervening ages. They were the raw youngsters, and we are the true Nestors. We show deference to the matured sagacity of the man, not to the crude attempts of the schoolboy: why then are we to reverence those collections of men, who, in the pupilage of time, were deemed miracles of precocity if they advanced beyond their A B C? All our impressions upon this subject are but so many mischievous prejudices, which, if we could reduce them to action, would compel the moral world to go backward instead of forward; and we must totally reverse the usual operation of our minds, if we would render proper justice to ourselves and to Antiquity. Nothing can be more ephemeral than our individual existence; but we are the constituents of an immortal community-the deciduous leaves of an imperishable trunk; for though generations pass away, the British public is perennial. We are the identical gentlemen to whom our ancestors have made so many pathetic appeals and apostrophes under the name of Posterity; and we are moreover the worshipful personages destined to be hereafter revered, and regretted, and eulogized, under the respectable designation of "our wise Ancestors." Let us then hold up our heads, for we stand between two mighty congregations, the past and the future, and our measure remains to be fairly taken. Whatever we contribute to the general stock of wisdom, we shall bequeath in addition to that which we have inherited; and if we are disposed to pride ourselves on the possession of a greater store than was enjoyed by our ancestors, we may learn humility from reflecting, that our successors will in the same proportion be still richer than ourselves. We have only, therefore, to assign to Posterity that gravity, and experience, and wisdom, which we ignorantly impute to the raw, boyish simpleton, Antiquity, and the two candidates for our favour will receive the fair award of their respective merits.

But I have a terrible crow to pick with this latter personage, Signor Antiquity, as a mighty stalking-horse on which knaves and bigots invariably mount when they want to ride over the timid and the credulous. We never hear so much palaver about the time-hallowed institutions and approved wisdom of our Ancestors, as when attempts are made to remove some staring monument of their folly. Sir Matthew Hale, that great luminary of law, after having condemned a poor woman to death for witchcraft, took occasion to sneer at the rash innovators who were then advocating a repeal of that statute; and falling on his knees, thanked God for being enabled to uphold one of the sagest enactments handed down to us by our venerable forefathers. Bacon, who was so far beyond his age in all matters of science, was not less credulous than the weakest of his contemporaries, and published very minute directions for guarding against witches, under which imputation many scores of wretched old women were burnt in the reign of that sapient Demonologist James the First. The worthy Druids, who sacrificed human victims to their idols, were “our illustrious Ancestors;" and if required to select instances from more mo

dern and civilized times, I would point to those of "our enlightened forefathers," who wasted their lives and fortunes in seeking the Elixir Vitæ and Philosopher's Stone--who practised torture upon suspected criminals--who believed in the efficacy of the King's touch for curing the Evil, and transmitted to us many other practices of barbarism and ignorance, which have become happily exploded, though not without great difficulty and opposition. Nay, have not we ourselves, who are fated to be the sage and revered progenitors of future canters, seen a Spanish army fighting for the restoration of the Inquisition and despotism? Have we not in our own country witnessed the existence of the Slave Trade, and heard the denunciations of its supporters against those who would subvert "the glorious institutions handed down to us ?" Have we not moreover living believers in Joanna Southcote, and metallic tractors, and animal magnetism, and fortune-tellers, and the efficacy of the Sinking Fund, and the danger of Popery, and innumerable other phantasms and delusions which poor Posterity will be bound to adopt as gospel, if the seal of time is to be always acknowledged as the signet of truth?

[ocr errors]

The lawyers of all ages are generally among the blind advocates of Antiquity. As a body, I believe them to have made incalculable advances in respectability and principle since the days of James the First, who, on receiving the great seal which Bacon had been compelled to resign for his manifold corruptions, exclaimed-" Now, by my saul, I am pained at the heart where to bestow this, for as to my lawyers I think they be all knaves:"-but in expansion of intellect, in capacity for enlarged views, or perception of abstract truth, I apprehend them to be still far behind the age in which they live. Certain trades invariably injure the organ of bodily sight, and the law seems to be a profession which has a strong tendency to contract and debilitate the mental pupil. Its disciples are so accustomed to look with other people's eyes, that they lose the use of their own; because precedent is omnipotent in the Courts, they think it must be infallible in the world. They study acts of parliament, commentaries, cases, arguments, dicta of judges, and receive their fiat with such implicit deference, that they cannot, or dare not, find their way out of the maze to look for any thing so simple and elemental as truth. Habituated to follow the bark of the leading hounds, they cannot recognise the game even if it crosses their path; or, if this simile be deemed too canine, I would respectfully hint that they worship the priests and the shrine too much to have any reverence left for the goddess. They argue with examples, not reasons, and adduce what people thought centuries ago, not what they ought to think now. They have deputed their faculties to Blackstone and other sages-they speak judgments, but use none, and generally go astray if left to the guidance of their original sagacity, as horses, if they miss their driver, will run their heads against a post or a wall. What they have spent their lives to learn, they would not willingly unlearn: you may prove that it is cruel, or false, or pernicious, which they will not gainsay, for these are points which they have not studied; but they silence you with one triumphant argument-it is law; a declaration which they usually wind up with the established flourish about hallowed institutions and approved wisdom, and so forth.-I describe the influence of their studies upon

« PreviousContinue »