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would set a bounty on the most enormous crime in hunian nature, and establish it as a law of religion and morality that the accomplishment of the most atrocious guilt invests the perpetrator with impunity, and renders his person forever sacred and inviolable ? For madmen and enthusiasts what avail your moral criterions ? But as to your Neapolitan bravos, if the act of Brutus who
In pity to the general wrong of Rome,
authorized by the laws of his country, in manifest opposition to all selfish interest, in the face of the senate, and instantly presenting himself and his cause first to that senate, and then to the assembled commons, by them to stand acquitted or condemnedif such an act as this, with all its vast outjutting circumstances of distinction, can be confounded by any mind, not frantic, with the crime of a cowardly skulking assassin who hires out his dagger for a few crowns to gratify a hatred not his own, or even with the deed of that man who makes a compromise between his revenge and his cowardice, and stabs in the dark the enemy whom he dared not meet in the open field, or summon before the laws of his country-what actions can be so different, that they may not be equally confounded? The ambushed soldier must not fire his musket, lest his example should be quoted by the villain who, to make sure of his booty, discharges his piece at the unsuspicious passenger from behind a hedge.' The physician must not administer a solution of arsenic to the leprous, lest his example should be quoted by professional poisoners. If no distinction, full and satisfactory to the conscience and common sense of mankind be afforded by the detestation and horror excited in all men, (even in the meanest and most vicious, if they are not wholly monsters) by the act of the assassin, contrasted with the fervent admiration felt by the good and wise in all ages when they mention the name of Brutus ; contrasted with the fact that the honor or disrespect with which that name was spoken of, became an historic criterion of a nobler or a base age; and if it is in vain that our own hearts answer to the question of the poet
. Is there among the adamantine spheres,
Wheeling unshaken through the boundless void,
Refulgent from the stroke of Cæsar's fate
On Tully's name, and shook his crimson sword,
For lo! the tyrant prostrate on the dust
If, I say, all this be fallacious and insufficient, can we have any firmer reliance on a cold ideal calculation of imaginary general consequences, which, if they were general, could not be consequences at all : for they would be effects of the frenzy or frenzied wickedness, which alone could confound actions so utterly dissimilar? No! (would the ennobled descendant of our Russells or Sidneys conclude). No! calumnious bigot! never yet did a human being become an assassin from' his own or the general admiration of the hero Brutus ; but I dare not warrant, that villains might not be encouraged in their trade of secret murder, by finding their own guilt attributed to the Roman patriot, and might not conclude, that if Brutus be no better than an assassin, an assassin can be no worse than Brutus.
I request that the preceding be not interpreted as my own judgment on tyrannicide. I think with Machiavel and with Spinosa, for many and weighty reasons assigned by those philosophers, that it is difficult to conceive a case, in which a good man would attempt tyrannicide, because it is difficult to conceive one, in which a wise man would recommend it. In a small state, included within the walls of a single city, and where the tyranny is maintained by foreign guards, it may be otherwise ; but in a nation or, empire it is perhaps inconceivable, that the circumstances which made a tyranny possible, should not likewise render the removal of a tyrant useless. The patriot's sword may cut off the Hydra's head; but he possesses no brand to stanch the active corruption of the body, which is sure to re-produce a suc
* Akenside. Pleasures of the Imagination, 2d ed. B. II. p. 361.-Ed.
"- and shook the crimson sword Of justice in his rapt, astonish'd eye,
And bade” &c. So in the original. S. C.
I must now in a few words answer the objection to the former part of my argument (for to that part only the objection applies), namely, that the doctrine of general consequences was stated as the criterion of the action, not of the agent. I might answer, that the author himself had in some measure justified me in not noticing this distinction by holding forth the probability, that the Supreme Judge will proceed by the same rule. The agent may then safely be included in the action, if both here and hereafter the action only and its general consequences will be attended to. But my main ground of justification is, that the distinction itself is merely logical, not real and vital. The character of the agent is determined by his view of the action : and that system of morality is alone true and suited to human nature, which unites the intention and the motive, the warmth and the light, in one and the same act of mind. This alone is worthy to be called a moral principle. Such a principle may be extracted, though not without difficulty and danger, from the ore of the Stoic philosophy; but it is to be found unalloyed and entire in the Christian system, and is there called faith.*
The following address was delivered at Bristol, in the month of February, 1795. The only omissions regard the names of persons; and I insert it here in support of the assertion made by me, in the beginning of Essay II. of this volume, and because this very address has been referred to in an infamous libel in proof of my former Jacobinism. Different as my present convictions are
* It may, perhaps, be not uninteresting to insert in this place a note which Mr. Coleridge wrote in his own copy of The Friend :
This last paragraph falls off from all the preceding. The reasoning is just, but it is dimly stated --not brought out, nor urged to the point. Want of space was the original cause of this deficiency. The Friend appearing on stamped sheets, and the author having reached the sixteenth page in the treatment of the moral question, he was forced to compress the promised answer to the objection into the remainder of a single page ;-and in the attempt slurred it over 220 June, 1829.-Ed.
on the subject of philosophical necessity, I have for this reason left the last paragraph unaltered.*
'Αεί γαρ της ελευθερίας εφίεμαι πολλα δε εν και τους φιλελευθέροις μισητά, αντελεύθερα.
For I am always a lover of liberty ; but in those who would appropriate the title, I find too many points destructive of liberty and hateful to her genuine advocates.
Companies resembling the present will, from a variety of circumstances, consist chiefly of the zealous advocates for freedom. It will, therefore, be our endeavor, not so much to excite the torpid, as to regulate the feelings of the ardent: and aboye all, to evince the necessity of bottoming on fixed principles, that so we may not be the unstable patriots of passion or accident, nor hurried away by names of which we have not sifted the meaning, and by tenets of which we have not examined the consequences. The times are trying ; and in order to be prepared against their difficulties, we should have acquired a prompt facility of adverting in all our doubts to some grand and comprehensive truth. In a deep and strong soil must that tree fix its roots, the height of which is to reach to heaven, and the sight of it to the ends of all the earth. .
The example of France is indeed a warning to Britain. A nation wading to its rights through blood, and marking the track of freedom by devastation! Yet let us not embattle our feelings against our reason. Let us not indulge our malignant passions under the mask of humanity. Instead of railing with infuriate declamation against these excesses, we shall be more profitably employed in tracing them to their sources. French freedom is the beacon which if it guides to equality should show us likewise the dangers that throng the road.
The annals of the French revolution have recorded in letters of blood, that the knowledge of the few can not counteract the ignorance of the many; that the light of philosophy, when it is confined to a small minority, points out the possessors as the victims, rather than the illuminators, of the multitude. The pa. * This speech, or lecture, was, with another on the then war with France, published in November, 1795, under the title Conciones ad populum. In this edition the author has made some alterations, but they are confined to the mere style. -Ed.
triots of France either hastened into the dangerous and gigantic error of making certain evil the means of contingent good, or were sacrificed by the mob, with whose prejudices and ferocity their unbending virtue forbade them to assimilate. Like Samson, the people were strong-like Samson, the people were blind. • Those two massy pillars' of the temple of oppression, their monarchy and aristocracy,
With horrible convulsion to and fro
Lords, ladies, captains, counsellors, and priests,
The Girondists, who were the first republicans in power, were men of enlarged views and great literary attainments; but they seem to have been deficient in that vigor and daring activity, which circumstances made necessary. Men of genius are rarely either prompt in action or consistent in general conduct. Their early habits have been those of contemplative indolence; and the day-dreams, with which they have been accustomed to amuse their solitude, adapt them for splendid speculation, not temperate and practicable counsels. Brissot, the leader of the Gironde party, is entitled to the character of a virtuous man, and an eloquent speaker; but he was rather a sublime visionary, than a quick-eyed politician ; and his excellences equally with his faults rendered him unfit for the helm in the stormy hour of revolution. Robespierre, who displaced him, possessed a glowing ardor that still remembered the end, and a cool ferocity that never either overlooked or scrupled the means. What this end was, is not known : that it was a wicked one, has by no means been proved. I rather think, that the distant prospect, to which he was travelling, appeared to him grand and beautiful ; but that he fixed his eye on it with such intense eagerness as to neglect the foulness of the road. If, however, his first intentions were pure, his subsequent enormities yield us a melancholy proof, that it is not the character of the possessor which directs the power, but the power which shapes and depraves the character of the possessor. In Robespierre, its influence was assisted by the properties of his
* Samson Agonistes, with alterations in italics.-- Ed.