« ZurückWeiter »
the present day it is not the most successful as well as the most powerful argument that has ever been made in opposition to the more celebrated treatise,
The publication of this masterly review showed plainly enough that another great writer had appeared. The reception the work received encouraged Mackintosh in the gratification of his tastes; and, finding himself irresistibly inclining to questions of political philosophy, he now abandoned the profession he had already entered, and turned his attention to the study of law. In 1795 he was admitted to the bar. Four years later he produced the second great literary impression of his life in the publication of the “Introduction to a Course of Lectures on the Law of Nature and of Nations." The remarkable impression made by this single lecture was expressed by Campbell, when he said: “Even supposing that essay had been recovered only imperfect and mutilated—if but a score of consecutive sentences could be shown, they would bear a testimony to his
genius as decided as the bust of Theseus bears to Grecian art among the Elgin marbles.”
Mackintosh's lectures, in the spring of 1799, at Lincoln's Inn Hall, were attended by an auditory such as had never before met in England on a similar occasion. “Lawyers, members of Parliament, men of letters, and gentlemen from the country crowded the seats; and the Lord Chancellor, who, from a pressure of public business, was unable to attend, received a full report of each lecture in writing, and was loud in their praise.” The introductory lecture, the only one that was written out and preserved, is as remarkable for its eloquence as for the depth of its learning and the vigor and discrimination of its thought.
Mackintosh now devoted himself to the practice of his profession with every prospect of the most flattering success. Regarding himself as more perfectly fitted for a position upon the bench than at the bar, he aspired to a judicial appointment at Trinidad or in India, The appointment was under contemplation,
when he was engaged to defend M. Jean Peltier, a Frenchman who resided in London and published a newspaper opposed to the rising fortunes of Bonaparte. There is an English statute against “libel on a friendly government”; and Bonaparte, who was now for the moment at peace with England, demanded that the statute should be enforced. Action was brought against Peltier, and when the case came on for trial Mackintosh delivered the speech selected from his works for this volume. He labored under the disadvantage of having the law clearly against him; but he regarded the equities of the case as entirely on the side of Peltier, and therefore he devoted his remarkable powers to the discussion of the general principles involved in the case. plea in behalf of freedom of the English press —its privilege and its duty to comment on and to criticise the crimes even of the proudest tyrants. The jury, under the law, was obliged to convict; but seldom before an English court has a speech made a greater impression.
It was a
Of this fact we have the most conclusive evidence in the testimony of the greatest of English advocates. Erskine was present during its delivery, and before going to bed he sent to Mackintosh the following remarkable note:
“DEAR SIR :- I can not shake off from my nerves the effect of your powerful and most wonderful speech, which so completely disqualifies you for Trinidad or India. I could not help saying to myself, as you were speaking : 'O terram illam beatam quæ hunc virum acciperit, hanc ingratam si ejicerit, miseram si amiserit.' I perfectly approve the verdict, but the manner in which you opposed it I shall always consider as one of the most splendid monuments of genius, literature, and eloquence. “Yours ever,
And Robert Hall, scarcely inferior to Erskine as a judge of what is worthy of praise in human speech, wrote to his old friend concerning it: “I speak my sincere sentiments when I say, it is the most extraordinary assemblage of whatever is most refined in address, profound in political and moral speculation, and masterly eloquence, which it has ever been my lot to read in the English language.”
A few months after the defence of Peltier,
Mackintosh received the honor of knighthood and was appointed Recorder at Bombay. This position took him to India, where he passed the next eight years, devoting his time to the duties of the bench and the pursuits of literature. On his return in 1812 to England he entered the House of Commons, and for four years was a firm supporter of the Whigs. In 1818 he accepted the Professorship of Law and General Politics in the newly established Haileybury College, a position which he filled with great distinction until 1827.
During all this period he did not relax his interest in the active affairs of government, nor in the questions that agitated the House of Commons. His speeches in the House, of which he continued to be a member, were remarkable for their wisdom; though perhaps not for their persuasive power. He will be remembered, not so much for his parliamentary services, as for his unrivalled plea in behalf of free speech, and for the many essays on philosophical and political subjects with which he