Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

ESSAY II.
OF THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS.

S

TOTHING is more apt to surprise a foreigner, than the extreme liberty,

which we enjoy in this country, of communicating whatever we please to the public, and of openly censuring every measure, entered into by the king or his ministers. If the administration resolve upon war, 'tis affirmed, that either wilfully or ignorantly they mistake the interest of the nation, and that peace, in the present situation of affairs, is infinitely preferable. If the passion of the ministers lie towards peace, our political writers breathe nothing but war and devaftation, and represent the pacific conduct of the government as mean and pusillanimous. As this liberty is not indulged in any other government, either republican or monarchical ; in HOLLAND and Venice, no more than in FRANCE or SPAIN; it may very naturally give occasion to these two questions, How it happens that GREAT BRITAIN enjoys such a peculiar privilege ? and whether the unlimited exercise of this liberty be advantageous or prejudicial to the public ?

As to the first question, Why the laws indulge us in such an extraordinary liberty ? I believe the reason may be derived from our mixed form of govern. ment, which is neither wholly monarchical, nor wholly republican. It will be found, if I mistake not, a true observation in politics, that the two extremes in government, liberty and savery, commonly approach nearest to each other; and that as you depart from the extremes, and mix a little of monarchy with liberty, the government becomes always the more free ; and on the other hand, when you mix a little of liberty with monarchy, the yoke becomes always the more grievous and intolerable. I shall endeavor to explain myself. In a government, such as that of FRANCE, which is entirely absolute, and where laws, custom, and religion concur, all of them, to make the people fully satisfied with their condition, the monarch cannot entertain the least jealousy against his subjects, and therefore is apt to indulge them in great liberties both of speech and action. In a government altogether republican, such as that of HOLLAND, where there is no magistrate so eminent as to give jealousy to the state, there is also no danger in intrusting the magistrates with very large discretionary powers; and tho' many advantages result from such powers, in the preservation of peace and order, yet they lay a considerable restraint on men's actions, and make every private subject pay a great respect to the government. Thus it seems evident, that the two extremes of absolute monarchy and of a republic, approach very near to each other in the most material circumstances. In the first, the magistrate has no jealousy of the people: In the second, the people have no jealousy of the magistrate : Which want of jealousy begets a mutual confidence and trust in both cases, and produces a fpecies of liberty in monarchies, and of arbitrary power in republics.

To justify the other part of the foregoing observation, that in every government the means are most wide of each other, and that the mixtures of monarchy and liberty render the yoke either more easy or more grievous; I must take no

tice tended

intrunes result from hint on men's "Thus it seems

[ocr errors]

tice of a remark of Tacitus with regard to the ROMANS under the emperors, that they neither could bear total slavery nor total liberty, Nec totam fervitutem, nec totam libertatem pati posunt. This remark a celebrated poet has translated and applied to the ENGLISH, in his lively description of queen ELIZABETH's policy and government.

ner son joug a ľAnglois indompté,

Qui ne peut ni fervir, ni vivre en liberté. HENRIADE, Liv. f. ACCORDING to these remarks, we are to consider the Roman government under the emperors as a mixture of despotism and liberty, where the despotism prevailed; and the ENGLISH government as a mixture of the same kind, but where the liberty predominates. The consequences are exactly conformable to the foregoing observation; and such as may be expected from those mixed forms of government, which beget a mutual watchfulness and jealousy. The Roman emperors were, many of them, the most frightful tyrants that ever disgraced human nature ; and 'tis evident their cruelty was chiefly excited by their jealousy, and by their observing, that all the great men of Rome bore with impatience the dominion of a family, which, but a little before, was no ways superior to their own. On the other hand, as the republican part of the government prevails in EngLAND, tho' with a great mixture of monarchy, 'tis obliged, for its own preserva. tion, to maintain a watchful jealousy over the magistrates, to remove all discretionary powers, and to secure every one's life and fortune by general and inflexible laws. No action must be deemed a crime but what the law has plainly determined to be such: No crime must be imputed to a man but from a legal proof before his judges, and even these judges must be his fellow-subjects, who are obliged, by their own interest, to have a watchful eye over the encroachments and violence of the ministers. From these causes it proceeds, that there is as much liberty, and even, perhaps, licentiousness in BRITAIN, as there were formerly Navery and tyranny in Rome.

These principles account for the great liberty of the press in these kingdoms, beyond what is indulged in any other government. 'Tis sufficiently known, that arbitrary power would steal in upon us, were we not extremely watchful to prevent its progress, and were there not an easy method of conveying the alarum from one end of the kingdom to the other. The spirit of the people must frequently be rouzed in order to curb the ambition of the court ; and the dread of rousing this spirit, must be employed to prevent that ambition. Nothing so effectual to this purpose as the liberty of the press, by which all the learning, wit and genius of the nation may be employed on the side of liberty, and every one be animated to its defence. As long, therefore, as the republican part of our government can maintain itself against the monarchical, it must he extremely jealous of the liberty of the press, as of the utmost importance to its preservation.

Since therefore the liberty of the press is so essential to the support of our mixed government; this sufficiently decides the second question, Whether this liberty be advantageous or prejudicial; there being nothing of greater importance in every state than the preservation of the ancient government, especially if it be a free one, But I would fain go a step farther, and affert, that such a liberty is at

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

wan the preservation of the ancient cous

tended with fo few inconveniencies, that it may be claimed as the common right of mankind, and ought to be indulged them almost in every government: except the ecclesiastical, to which indeed it would prove-fatal. We need not dread from this liberty any such ill consequences. as followed from the harangues of the popular demagogues of Athens and tribunes of Rome. A man reads a book . or pamphlet alone and coolly. There is none present from whom he can catch the passion by contagion. He is not hurried away by the force and energy of action. And should he be wrought up to ever so seditious a humor, there is no violent resolution presented to him, by which he can immediately vent his palfion. The liberty of the press, therefore, however abused, can scarce ever excite popular tumults or rebellion. And as to those murmurs or fecret discontents it may occafion, 'tis better they should get vent in words, that they may come to the knowlege of the magistrate before it be too late, in order to his providing à remedy against them. Mankind, 'tis true, have always a greater propension to believe what is said to the disadvantage of their governors, than the contrary; but this inclination is inseparable from them, whether they have liberty or not. A whisper may fly as quick, and be as pernicious as a pamphlet. Nay, it will be more pernicious, where men are not accustomed to think freely, or distinguish betwixt truth and fallhood.

It has also been found, as the experience of mankind increases, that the people are no such dangerous monster as they have been represented, and that 'tis in every respect better to guide them, like rational creatures, than to lead or drive them, dike brute beasts. Before the United Provinces set the example, toleration was deenred incompatible with good government ; and it was thought impossible, that a number of religious fects could live together in harmony and peace, and have all of them an equal affection to their common country, and to each other. ENGLAND has set a like example of civil liberty; and tho' this liberty seems to occasion some small ferment at prefent, it has not as yet produced any pernicious effects'; and it is to be hoped, that men, being every day more accuftomed to the free difcussion of public affairs, will improve in their judgment of them, and be with greater difficulty reduced by every idle rumor and popular clamor.

'Tis a very comfortable reflection to the lovers of liberty, that this peculiar privilege of BRITAIN is of a kind that cannot easily be wrefted from us, but must last as long as our government remains, in any degree, free and independent. 'Tis seldom, that liberty of any kind is lost all at once. Slavery has fo frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom, that it must steal in upon them by degrees, and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes, in order to be received. But, if the liberty of the press ever be loft, it muft be loft at once. The general laws against sedition and libelling are at present as strong as they possibly can be made. Nothing can impofe a farther restraint, but either the clapping an IMPRIMATUR upon the press, or the giving to the court very large discretionary powers to punish whatever displeases them. But these concessions would be such a barefaced violation of liberty, that they will probably be the last efforts of a despotic government. We may conclude, that the liberty of Britain is gone for ever when these attempts shall succeed.

ESSAY

[blocks in formation]

at the

good ended. Pinion

forts, that

[ocr errors]

TAM of opinion, That the common complaints against Providence are ill

grounded, and that the good or bad qualities of men are the causes of their good or bad fortune, more than what is generally imagined. There are, no doubt, instances to the contrary, and thefe too pretty numerous; but few, in comparison of the instances we have of a right distribution of prosperity and adverlity: nor indeed could it be otherwise from the common course of human affairs. To be endowed with a benevolent disposition, and to love others, will almoft infallibly procure love and esteem ; which is the chief circumstance in life, and facilitates every enterprize and undertaking; besides the satisfaction, which immediately results from it. The cale is much the same with the other virtues. Prosperity is naturally, tho' not necessarily attached to virtue and merit ; and adversity, in like manner, to vice and folly.

I MUST, however, confess, that this rule admits of an exception, with regard to one moral quality, and that modesty has a natural tendency to conceal a man's talents, as impudence displays them to the utmost, and has been the only cause why many have risen in the world, under all the disadvantages of low birth and little merit. Such indolence and incapacity is there in the generality of mankind, that they are apt to receive a man for whatever he has a mind to put himself off for ; and admit his over-bearing airs as proofs of that merit which he assumes to him, self. A decent assurance seems to be the natural attendant of virtue; and few men can distinguish impudence from it : As, on the other hand, diffidence, bem ing the natural result of vice and folly, has drawn disgrace upon modesty, which in outward appearance so nearly resembles it.

As impudence, tho' really a vice, has the same effects upon a man's fortune, as if it were, a virtue; fo we may observe, that it is almost as difficult to be attained, and is, in that respect, distinguished from all the other vices, which are acquired with little pains, and continually encrease upon indulgence. Many a man, being sensible that modesty is extremely prejudicial to him in making his fortune, has resolved to be impudent, and to put a bold face upon the matter : But, 'tis observable, that such people have seldom succeeded in the attempt, but have been obliged to relapse into their primitive nodesty. Nothing carries a man thro’ the world like a true genuine natural impudence. Its counterfeit is good for nothing, nor can ever support itself. In any other attempt, whatever faults-a man commits and is sensible of, he is so much the nearer his end. But when he endeavours, at impudence, if he ever failed in the attempt, the remembrance of that failure will make him blush, and will infallibly disconcert him : After which every blush is a cause for new blushes, 'till he be found out to be an arranc cheat, and a vain pretender to impudence.

Is any thing can give a modeft man more assurance, it must be some advan tages of fortyne, which chance procures, to him. Riches naturally gain a man

a fa

arrane cheat every bluth is and make him blunever failed in thearer his end. B

a favourable reception in the world, and give merit a double lustre, when a person is endowed with it ; and supply its place, in a great measure, when it is absent. 'Tis wonderful to observe what airs of fuperiority fools and knaves, with large possessions, give themselves above men of the greatest merit in poverty. Nor do the men of merit make any strong opposition to these usurpations ; or rather seem to favor them by the modesty of their behaviour. Their good sense and experience make them diffident of their judgment, and cause them to examine every thing with the greatest accuracy: As, on the other hand, the delicacy of their sentiments makes them timorous lest they commit faults, and lose in the practice of the world that integrity of virtue, so to speak, of which they are so jealous. To make wisdom agree with confidence, is as difficult as to reconcile vice and modesty.

These are the reflections which have occurred upon this subject of impudence and modefty; and I hope the reader will not be displeased to see them wrought

the following allegory:n

joined VIRTUE, Wisdom

connected, sent them

JUPITER, in the beginning, joined VIRTUE, WISDOM, and CONFIDENCE together; and Vice, FOLLY, and DIFFIDENCE : And thus connected, sent them into the world. But tho' he thought he had matched them with great judgment, and said that Confidence was the natural companion of Virtue, and that Vice deserved to be attended with Diffidence, they had not gone far before dissension arose among them. Wisdom, who was the guide of the one company, was always accustomed before she ventured upon any road, however beaten, to examine it carefully; to enquire whither it led; what dangers, difficulties and hindrances might possibly or probably occur in it. In these deliberations she usually consumed some time, which delay was very displeasing to Confidence, who was always inclined to hurry on, without much forethought or deliberation, in the first road he met. Wisdom and Virtue were inseparable : But Confidence one day, following his impetuous nature, advanced a considerable way before his guides and companions ; and not feeling any want of their company, he never enquired after them, nor ever met with them more. In like manner, the other society, tho' joined by JUPITER, disagreed and separated. As folly saw very little way before her, the had nothing to determine concerning the goodness of roads, nor could give the preference to one above another; and this want of resolution was encreased by Diffidence, who, with her doubts and scruples, always retarded the journey. This was a great annoyance to Vice, who loved not to hear of difficulties and delays, and was never satisfied without his full career, in whatever his inclinations led him to Folly, he knew, tho' The hearkened to Diffidence, would be easily managed when alone ; and therefore, as a vicious horse throws his rider, he openly beat away this controller of all his pleasures, and proceeded in his journey with Folly, from whom he is inseparable. Confidence and Diffidence being, after this manner, both thrown loose from their respective companies, wandered for some time; till at last chance led them at the fame time to one village. Confidence went directly up to the great house, which belonged to WEALTH, the lord of the village ; and without staying for a porter, intruded himself immediately into the innermost apartments, where he found Vice and Folly well received before him. He joined the train ; recommended himself very quickly to his landlord ; and entered into such familiarity with Vice, that he was enlisted in the fame

com

« ZurückWeiter »