Abbildungen der Seite

whose presence all powers are suspended, even those of the chief magistrate of the nation, when he attempts to oppose us-you forget that we do not attempt to appoint or remove the ministers by our decrees, but merely to express the opinion of our constituents upon the administration of this or that minister. What then? Do you refuse us the right of declaring our sentiments, and compel us to contemplate the conduct of ministers in respectful silence, when at the same time you grant us the power of impeaching them, and constituting the court which shall bring them to judg ment? Do you not perceive how much more moderate I am than you, and how much more favorably I deal with the government? You leave no interval between perfect silence and impeachment. As for me, I give notice, before I impeach; I object, before I punish; I afford opportunity for weakness and error to withdraw, before I treat them as crimes.

But look at Great Britain, see what agitation is there produced by the right you claim. It raised the storm in which England was lost. England lost? Great God! what disastrous news! But tell me then in what latitude did this happen? What earthquake, what vast convulsion of nature swallowed up that famous island, that exhaustless store house of great examples, that classic ground of the friends of liberty? But surely you are mistaken; England is still flourishing for the eternal instruction of the world. England is repairing in glorious tranquillity the wounds she inflicted on herself in a paroxysm of fever. England is carrying to perfection every branch of industry and exploring every path that leads to wealth and greatness. You are thinking of some debate in parliament-there as elsewhere, generally mere verbiage. You are alarmed at the dissolution of the house of commons!' &c.

The idea of the subordination of all the departments of government to the supreme power of the people, which is insisted on at the beginning of the above extract, is doubtless perfectly correct; and it suited the argument of Mirabeau to treat the theory of three powers as in some measure inconsistent with that of the sovereignty of the people. In reality, however, it is highly favorable to it, because it regards the executive magistrate, who claims in most countries to be the sovereign, as a mere functionary on a level with the other magistrates, entrusted with the duties of legislation and judgment. This view of the executive office constitutes the real distinction between rational and arbitrary notions of government; and involves in itself the whole theory of liberty. The name of powers applied to the branches of administration is perfectly harmless; and no more connects the essential

sovereignty with the office to which it is affixed, than the power of attorney to manage an estate conveys a good title to it.

The following answer was made by Mirabeau, then presiding in the national assembly, to an address from a deputation of the sect of quakers. He refutes all their principles with great nonchalance, at the same time that he is overwhelming them with a profusion of polite and complimentary phrases. The whole speech is in fact a piece of delicate persiflage.

'Gentlemen! the quakers who fled from persecution and tyranny had a right to address themselves with confidence to the first legislative assembly which ever enacted the rights of man in the forms of law; and France in the enjoyment of her new institutions and in the bosom of peace will become a second Pennsylvania. We admire the philanthropy of your principles. They remind us of the infancy of the human race when society was still in the patriarchal state, and men were united by affections, habits, and mutual wants. Doubtless the principles which should tend to restore this state of things would be the most favorable of all to happiness and virtue.'

We shall not examine your ideas considered as matters of opinion. We have already pronounced upon this point, and recognized the truth that every man is independent as regards his thoughts. As a citizen, he submits to government; as a thinking being, he acknowledges no political authority. Nor shall we inquire into the correctness of your religious views. The relations of each individual with the Supreme Being are as free as his thoughts. What government would venture to place itself between man and his maker? It is only as rules of society that we shall look at your doctrines, and they will be submitted to the discussion of the legislative body. This assembly will inquire whether the manner in which you certify the regularity of marriages and births is sufficiently formal to afford the necessary security to morals and property; and whether an affirmation made under the pains and penalties of perjury is not substantially equivalent to an oath.

You are mistaken, my excellent fellow citizens: you have already taken the oath of allegiance which every citizen regards as a pleasure rather than a duty. You have not called God to witness, but you have sworn by your consciences; and is not conscience an emanation from divinity? You say that an article of your belief prohibits you under any pretence from bearing arms. This religious obligation to preserve peace is a beautiful idea; but is not self defence also a religious duty? Would you then submit to oppression? As we have conquered liberty for you and all of us, why should you refuse to assist us in maintaining it? Would your brothers in Pennsylvania have allowed

their wives and children to be butchered by the savages, rather than repulse an attack by force? and is not a tyrant the worst of savages?

The Assembly will, however, in its wisdom, do justice to all your demands; and whenever I meet a quaker, I shall say to him; my brother, if you have a right to be free, you have a right to prevent yourself from being made a slave. Since you love your neighbor, do not suffer him to be the victim of oppression; this would be equivalent to killing him yourself. You are fond of peace; but weakness is the real cause of war; and universal peace can only result from universal ability to resist aggression. The Assembly invites you to assist at the sitting.

We shall close this article with the short funeral oration pronounced by Mirabeau upon the death of Franklin. The style is rather too pompous; but it is not always that lofty language is so well justified by the dignity of the subject, as in the case of our illustrious townsman.

Gentlemen! Franklin is dead. The genius which delivered America, and poured such floods of light upon Europe, has returned to the bosom of the divinity. The sage whom both worlds claim as their own, whose name is recorded with equal honor in the history of government, and that of science, is justly entitled to be reckoned among those who have done the greatest honor to our species.

It has long been the practice of courts to inform each other of the decease of individuals who were only great in funeral orations, and to notice these events by formal mournings. But nations should mourn for none but their benefactors; and their representatives should recommend to their attention and regret no others but the heroes of humanity.

The Congress has ordered a mourning of two months for the death of Franklin, through the fourteen United States; and America is now paying this tribute of respect to one of her political fathers.

Would it not become us, Gentlemen, to join in this pious act, to take a part in this public homage to the rights of man, and to the philosopher, who has contributed more than any other to ensure their acknowledgment through the world. Antiquity would have raised altars to this mighty genius, who compassed earth and sky to accomplish his benevolent objects,-who mastered the bolt of heaven and the sceptre of tyranny. Our free and enlightened country owes, at least, some mark of recollection and regret, to one of the greatest men that ever served the cause of philosophy and freedom.

"I propose that the National Assembly wear mourning three days for the death of Benjamin Franklin."

ART. VI.-Intorno all' ingiustizia di alcuni giudizii letterarii Italiani. Discorso di Lodovico Arborio Gattinara di Breme, figlio. 8vo. Milano, 1816.

OUR attention has been often directed for some years past to the character and condition of the Italian states. Various circumstances have combined to give them an interest in the view of every class of readers; and all can now talk of Italian skies, and Roman ruins, of the Carbonari, or the doge of Venice. To the lovers of novels and poetry, Mad. de Stael and lord Byron have made the peninsula a marvel and a show; the inquiries of the northern critics and travellers have given a new impulse to the curiosity of scholars, and all Americans have had their enthusiasm awakened, though but to sleep again, by a momentary appearance of the spirit of liberty.

The general impression left among us, however, by most that has been said and written, is not, we should judge, very flattering to the present self-complacent and self-styled inheritors of Roman fame. Upon us, who value ourselves so highly on the enjoyment of freedom and independence, the failure of their political enterprises would of course produce no very favorable effect. It has inclined us to receive with additional aggravation what we had been told of their indolence and effeminacy. They figure in our imaginations very much like the Romans, whom Marius represented as the inactive and degraded descendants of ancestors, whose honors they could not sustain ; and we admit them to be unworthy of the liberty, which they had not courage to vindicate. But in the mind of the scholar it is the all-subduing contrast of the present with the past, that degrades the living inhabitants of the peninsula. Such an one, indeed, comparing the ancient and modern Italians, might be tempted, perhaps, to venture upon rather an unlicensed extension of Mr Schlegel's doctrines of epic poetry, and consider, not only the true heroics of antiquity, but even the mock heroics of modern days, as pictures of human life. Thus the Romans would come to have in his mind about the same relation to their successors, as the Æneid of Virgil to Tassoni's Secchia Rapita;' and those, who were exhorted, 'parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos,' would seem fairly followed by a race, who, as Tassoni would describe them,

'Attendean le feste a suon di squille,
A dare il sacco alle vieine ville.'

[ocr errors]

From the stern and classic heroes of republican and imperial Rome, or their more recent successors, whose wild instinct of gore and glory' gave a name to the Italian republics, and inspired the lofty meditations of Childe Harold, his thoughts might unluckily descend to Beppo, to the improvisatori, the cavalieri serventi, and to an idle and useless generation, who delight in carnivals, and, whether high or low, spend their lives with fiddling, feasting, dancing, drinking, masking;' and thus, though Italy rises and passes before him, like a magnificent vision, having many changes, it is only its distant and remembered glories, that inspire him with awe. At least the scholar, who has never visited its living and moving scenes, and knows the present, as the past, only by the help of reading and imagining, has most probably reserved all his reverence for those, who rule our spirits from their urns.' Theatres, ballets, and masquerades can scarcely for a moment intercept the thoughts, which hasten to fix themselves on the nobler recollections of departed greatness-the scenes, with which Livy and Tacitus have stored the imagination, and the everchanging pictures of Gibbon,-the treasures of art, the tombs of poets, and the monuments of heroes.


When we think of visiting the other countries of Europe, though we may have some few feelings of antiquarian curiosity to gratify, it is much more for what they now are, that our enthusiasm is excited. Our minds are at once thronged with conceptions of the stateliness and imposing magnificence of power, with ideas of institutions, venerable indeed for their antiquity, but still as they were, and still venerable. We long to listen to the living eloquence of the senate, the pulpit, and the bar; to revel in their hoarded treasures of literature and science, and gather knowledge from the lips of those, whose fame we have heard, or whose works we have read and admired. In Italy, only, we could wish to be alone, with nothing around us, but the monuments of the past. However unjust it may be, we cannot but feel that we should not recognize the bustling and self-satisfied race around us, as the objects of our search. They would serve but to break the charm, which the recollections of the scene would otherwise bring over us, and interrupt our converse with the mighty dead. For more than one reason, we might be tempted to apply to them what was said of the tumultuous rabble, whose uproar assailed the ears of Dante, on entering the place of souls:

« ZurückWeiter »