Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

never routed, are always, in the end, successful. True is this always, and most true in this case ; all the objects, for which Romilly contended, have been effected since his death, though in some instances by vastly inferior men.*

We have thus far seen all that Romilly did, and all that he failed of doing. It makes no great show on the statute book; but we apprehend, though we say it with deference to those who have had better opportunities of judging of the progress of legal reform, that England owes more to Sir Samuel Romilly than to any other of her sons in this behalf. It cannot be otherwise. Bentham was at this time toiling assiduously at the works which are only now slowly making their way in either hemisphere. As a master of legal philosophy, as the teacher of the science of justice, his is the name with which none other can compare. But Romilly, for more than ten years, was the only man, in public life, and of practical acquaintance with the subject, who devoted himself to it. If he was inferior to Bentham in the scope and magnitude of his views, he was infinitely superior in every mode of ensuring success, and Bentham alone can, in any respect, claim priority or pre-eminence. Brougham's great speech, on the reform of the law, was ten years posterior to Romilly's death — add to this the eminence of his standing at the bar, which gave weight to every suggestion that fell from his lips ; his distinguished position as a member of parliament; the beauty and purity of mind which elevated and dignified every subject that it touched; combine all these things, and we may imagine the influence of such a man for so many years toiling at this great result. We can scarcely be wrong in supposing Romilly to have been, by far, the most efficient legal reformer in England. Mackintosh succeeded him, a man who wanted nothing but persevering, patient industry, to have been among Britain's greatest men. At a later day, and with a vastly wider interval of talent, but with all the weight of official station, Peel followed ; and, at last, Brougham, with his immense attainments, his copious and splendid oratory, added his great name to the list of the reformers of the law, till the tables were completely turned ; innovation became the favorite, and establishment was in disgrace. But of all these men, as Romilly was the most eininent, not less for his legal learning than for his purity and disinterestedness of character, so was he, in point of time, the first.

*The changes in the criminal law of England are indeed manifold. The 7th and 8th George IV., cap. 28, (21st June, 1827,) sect. 6, abolishes benefit of clergy, with respect to persons convicted of felony, and does away with this absurd fiction.

The 7th and 8th of George IV., cap. 27, (21st June, 1827,) repeals one hundred and forty murderous acts, or parts of acts, which inflicted death, and among these the particular statutes which Romilly endeavored to abolish.

The act 54 George III., cap. 45, abolishes all corruption of blood and forfeiture of lands, after death, in every case, except treason, petit treason, and murder.

While on this subject, it is worth while to notice the time at which these abuses were done away here. The revolution found fastened on us, probably throughout the colonies, certainly in New York, all the prominent evils of which we have spoken, corruption of blood, benefit of clergy, a sanguinary code ; but the mental moral impulse given by independence, made itself immediately felt in our legislation. By an act of 1788, (Greenleaf, 273,) the benefit of clergy was abolished. It was shortly after (1 Ks. R., 214) provided, that no attainder of treason, or misprison of treason, should work corruption of blood; and now, by R. S. vol. ii. p. 58, no conviction of any offence, except outlawry for treason, works any forfeiture of real or personal estate; in this case conviction works civil death, and absolute forfeiture of estate to the people. By act (2 Greenleaf) of 1788. fifieen crimes were punished with death. By R. S. vol. 2, p. 5, 46, these are reduced to three, treason, murder, and arson. These things prove that we of the western hemisphere are right, that humanity and reason, in legislation, thrive better in the republic than under the monarchy. When the haughty mistress of the isles follows with distant and reluctant tread in the footsteps of the empress of the west, it is not too much to believe, that we are leading in that way which all the nations of the earth must one day take. Nothing is more remarkable than the increased attention paid in England to American legislation and jurisprudence. All the late writers, on subjects of legal reform, that we have seen, -Spence, Miller, Field, - quote American authority in some shape or another.

And, on the other side, whom do we see arranged against him, and against his cause - Ellenborough, as Law, a lawyer of distinguished ability; as chief justice, a judge ; if of bad temper, still of great and undoubted merit. Redesdale, an excellent magistrate, and the author of one of the most finished, we had almost said delightful, works on any branch of the science of the law, which our libraries furnish. Eldon, unsurpassed in learning; a judge of uncommon fidelity; a man of sagacity and penetration. These were his prominent adversaries; all self-made men like himself; all of them of far more than ordinary intellect: and yet what is it all, as far as regards the permanent interests of the race, but learning, ability, energy, accomplishment, wasted, perverted !

Such was Sir Samuel Romilly's life. We have grouped together its principal features, as far as they display him in the character of a lawyer, legal reformer, and legislator. They all show the same man. It is not a case for panegyric. Epithet is lost. It is too admirable for eulogy. When you have said, that he lived up to his own standard, and that standard, truth, independence, laborious effort to increase the happiness of the great mass, and an inexhaustible love for those immediately connected with and dependant on him, all is told ; but what more can be said of mortal man? Such live not in vain. Their example and memory die not with them. Country nor language circumscribe their sphere of well-doing. It is good for all to look on such individuals; it is especially good for those of us who belong to the same profession which he graced, to draw ourselves a little while from the base mechanical avocations of our daily drudgery, and see to what eminence of character, and to what degree of self-wrought happiness a lawyer may attain. Such men redeem England from the incubus of her aristocracy; the rampant servility of the low, the willing subservience of the middling classes, the haughty condescension of the upperall the manifold social evils of her feudal organization are forgotten when poring over the narrative of such a life as this. Such men are the glory of England. They are, in truth, her peculiar glory; no other country breeds them; no other land raises this cross of the hardy virtues of the republic with the grace, refinement, and delicacy of the monarchy. You find them in England, and no where else. Long may she retain the blood. They will make amends for all other losses ; her flag may no longer sweep the seas; her dominions may cease to lie from the daylight to the sunset; she may be shorn of her colonies; Manchester and Stockport may strike to Lowell and Waltham ; but, so long as she gives birth to Romillys, so long must she be a great, a free, and a happy people.

It seems that, at the time of his death, Romilly had in preparation a work on the criminal law, and he has left no less than forty-eight essays, or heads of chapters, for the work. But of these he directed his executors to publish only such as might do good, whether they were calculated to advance his reputation or not. In consequence, his representatives thinking, we suppose, that many of them had been anticipated by the progress of reform, have left them unedited ; but we have no doubt, from the titles, that it is due to Romilly's reputation, as a legislator on a large scale, and of extended views, that they should be given to the public. Lord Brougham, in his sketch of Romilly, speaks of them as very valuable.

We are very curious to know more of Romilly's religious opinions. Under the year, 1812, we find the following beauful invocation :

years

Almighty God! Creator of all things, the source of all wisdom, and goodness, and virtue, and happiness, I bow down before thee, not to offer up prayers, for I dare not presume to think, or hope, that thy most just, unerring, and supreme will can be in any degree influenced by any supplications of mine, nor to pour forth

forth praises and adorations, for I feel that I am unworthy to offer them; but, in all humility, and with a deep sense of my own insignificance, to express the thanks of a contented and happy being for the innumerable benefits which he enjoys. I cannot reflect that I am a human being, living in civilized society, born the member of a free state, the son of virtuous and tender parents, blessed with an ample fortune, endowed with faculties which have enabled me to acquire that fortune myself, enjoying a fair reputation, beloved by my relations, esteemed by my friends, thought well of by most of my countrymen to whom my name is known, united to a kind, virtuous, enlightened, and most affectionate wife, the father of seven children, all in health, and all giving, by the goodness of their dispositions, a promise of future excellence; and, though myself far advanced in life, yet still possessed of health and strength, which seem to afford me the prospect of future of enjoyment. I cannot reflect on all these things, and not express my gratitude to thee, O God, from whom all this good has flowed. I am sincerely grateful for the happiness of all those who are most dear to me, of my beloved wife, of my sweet children, of my relations, and of my friends.

“I prostrate myself, oh almighty and omniscient God, before thee. In endeavoring to contemplate thy divine attributes, I seek to elevate my soul towards thee, I seek to improve and ennoble my faculties, and to strengthen and quicken my ardor for the public good, and I appear to myself to rise above my earthly existence, while I am indulging the hope that I may, at some time, instrument in the divine work of enlarging the sphere of human happiness."

Of duelling, he says, in 1809 :

“ The practice of duelling, as it has of late prevailed, is a great national evil. When, indeed, a man has received some flagrant insult, and finds himself exposed, if he patiently endures it, to public contempt and scorn, and if he resents it, not only to a violation of the laws of his country, but to a profanation of the law of God, though it cannot to those who have a true sense of the duties of religion, be doubtful how he should act, yet even the most austere piety must admit that his is a most trying and painful situation, and that he is well entitled, if not to indulgence at least, to pity.”— Vol. ii., p. 293.

These two, with the remarks on the vote of the bishops, which we have elsewhere extracted, are almost the only

prove an humble

passages in these volumes which throw any light upon his religious character, strictly so called ; and, although they are full of that benevolence, charity, and truth, which form the best part of every religion, still we remain unsatisfied as to Romilly's sentiments in regard to the outward observances of the Christian faith, and as to his assent to or dissent from the tenets of any particular creed. It is matter of no ordinary interest to know what opinions on this subject were entertained by a man so pure and excellent. The compilers of these volumes have done nothing to supply this defect, and, in general, it is to be regretted that they have not interwoven with the web of the autobiography and letters more of their own, and thus supplied information of which, as it at present stands, the work is necessarily deficient. It contains no details in regard to the melancholy end of Sir Samuel Romilly's life. The last entry in his diary is a touching one. Relapse of Anne.That relapse cost him his own life.

That admirable woman, of whom, we regret to say, these pages tell the reader scarcely any thing, died on Thursday, October 29, 1818, at the Isle of Wight.

The effect upon his own mind, of this event, is to be found in the report of the evidence taken before the coroner's inquest, and, as it is little known, we briefly extract it:

Mr. Stephen Dumont.—Lady Romilly had a relapse, and was for some days in great suffering. During that time, nothing could equal the excruciating pains of Sir Samuel, but his resignation and fortitude. He was almost entirely deprived of sleep, and I saw he began to entertain the greatest apprehension from that circumstance. Twice or thrice he has expressed his fears of mental derangement. Once he sent to me in the middle of the night, at least at two o'clock, and spoke to me of a dream he had had, full of horrors, and said, that an impression had remained on his mind, as if the dream had been a reality. He asked me if I did not consider that a proof that his mind was broken and his faculties impaired. On Thursday, while at Cowes, the 29th of October, he was informed by his nephew, Dr. Roget, that his lady was no more.

He told me that his brains was burning hot. He left Cowes with great reluctance the next day. He slept at Winchester. Sir Samuel's night was extremely restless. The next morning I observed marks of great agitation, which he tried to subdue. He was constantly tearing his gloves, or the palms of his hands, or scratching his finger and his nose; some blood came from his nose.

He was urged not to go to his own house, in Russel square, London, but he insisted. I observed more violent signs of agitation; still more tearing

« FöregåendeFortsätt »