Chapter 9

Having now a little time upon his hands, the Captain thought of repeating his visit to the blind lawyer, and fiddler; and happening at an interval of the blind man’s lectures he drew him into conversation, on the subject of the law. What is this common law, said he, which you speak of, and why cannot it be abolished? The common law of England! why not a common law of our own; now that we are an independent government?

It is our own common law, said the lawyer. We derive it from a common source with the inhabitants of Britain. Shall the people on that side the water alone possess this jurisprudence, which our common ancestors possessed, just because we have left the island? It was because our birth-right to this law was questioned that we resisted in war, and declared our independence. The right to representation is a principle of the common law, and this right was denied to the colonies. The right of trial by jury is a principle of the common law, and this in some cases was abridged, in others, taken away altogether. On what ground were these defended-- On the ground that they were our inheritance by the common law.

But why called common law? It was so called as distinguished from the laws of particular places. It was a system common to the whole people. The term came into use after the Heptarchy.

A ground of this law is reason; or the principles of universal justice. The application of these principles to particular cases, forms a great part of the common law: the application of the principles of justice to that infinity of cases, which arise on the intercourse of men in a state of society: obligations independent of contract, or contracts themselves. We read the decisions in such cases, because the reason of those who have gone before, is a help to those that follow.

Rules of pleading, rules of evidence, the practice of courts, are the result of experience, and our own; or adopted by us, as a part of the common law. This law forms a system begun in the woods of Germany; taking its rise amongst our Saxon ancestors, it was brought with them into Britain; receiving accessions from what it found good in the island to which it came.

Abolish the common law? Why not abolish the art of medicine, because it has been cultivated in Great Britain? Sydenham, Harvey and Mead, are thought to have added to the science. The British chemists, in some instances, have increased the materia medica. Why not make war upon the apothecaries, because they sell English drugs?

Just at that instant, a hurly burly was heard half a square distant; people rushing into an apothecary shop, and jugs thrown out at the window. It was a mob collected to break up the Doctor.

A Latin master from the college, lifting up his hands in the attitude of a man attempting to ring a bell, was endeavouring to appease the multitude, in such address as was on his tongue from the classic authors: cives cives, quis furor vos agitat! vesania quae versat? quae dementia cepit! Infelix pecus! oh! heu! proh hominum. Insanire decet, ratione, modoque.

It availed nothing The outrage was continued. Glass and earthen ware, broken; powders and liquids filled the atmosphere with vapour, and a variety of smells. Ah! said an orator, it is full time to return to the simplicity of early times, when men had recourse, in case of internal diseases, or external wounds, to the barks of trees, or the plants of the fields, and had not yet become acquainted with extractions and decoctions put in phials, and called drops, to make the well sick, and poison the living.

It would have made a good drawing in a picture, to have seen the apothecary, at work, endeavouring to clear the shop; with a cudgel, sometimes pelting a riotor; at other times breaking the head of one of his own jugs.

A preacher stood by exhorting to carry on the work. He had taken a text. It was in these words, “There is a time to build, and a time to pull down.” He thought this a pulling down time. The greater part of his audience appeared to think him orthodox, and were showing their faith, by their works, at the expense of the dispensary. Good God, called out the son of Esculapius, will no one assist? shall I be ruined? The industry of years dissipated in a day: All my laudanum, my pepper-mint, sulphur, vitriol, oils, acids, my tartar and arsenic; all gone to pot, or rather the pots gone with them, jars, jugs, and glister-pipes: what devastation! what havock! Is it for sport, or for profit! Oh; monstrous! the folly, the fury, the madness of the populace! They are indeed the swinish multitude. A herd of swine in a century, would not have done so much damage.

At this point of the game, whether by design, or accident, a cry of fire had been raised; and the fire company with their engine and buckets were up, and began to play upon the building, throwing the water in at the windows, and at the door, so that the people in the house, and the Doctor himself were as wet as rats, and occasionally the pipe carried round with a sweep, came upon the by-standers without. The preacher got his Bible wet, and his Psalm book; and the Latin master called out “Jam satis terris;” or that there was rain enough; and the orator, thought it a new way, of quelling the mobs. The Captain said he had seen something of the kind attempted in repressing bees, when they swarmed, throwing water on them, and that the riots of men were analogous.

But what can they mean, said a peace officer, by attacking this mans boluses? Do they mean to put an end to the practice of physic? Among the savages they attribute aches, and pains in the flesh and bones, to a bad spirit that has got into the muscles, and the tendons, and by rubbing with the hand, and pressing the parts they endeavour to expel it. The chaffing has sometimes a good effect, and if there should not be an evil spirit to drive out, it eases and relieves from the complaint. But though exercise and temperance may preserve health, and cold and warm bathing, and friction of the joints may relieve from a rheumatic pain, yet in a multitude of cases the specifics of pharmacy may be found useful; especially in a society of close population, where we have not woods and forests to run in, and where sedentary occupations keep people sitting half their time. And though after all, the diagnosis, or distinguishing diseases, is in many cases, but a guess, and the means of cure still more conjectural, yet still there is something in the province of science, and the skill of the well read and experienced physician.

Why then do you not put the law in force against such an attack upon the druggist, said the orator? You see his chest of medicine broken open, before your eyes, and his shelves pulled down, and the tables under foot, and yet no one bound over, or the riot act read.

Soft and fairly, said the peace officers, all in good time.

Take sail from the mast when there comes too strong a blast. A madness prevails at present. It will be but of a fortnights continuance. When the people get a thing into their heads, the best way is to let them go on. They will come to themselves by and by.

But in the mean time they will do a great deal of harm, said the Captain.

It is in the atmosphere, said the orator!

Is it imported, or of domestic origin, said a thinking man among the crowd. It may be imported, or it may be of domestic origin, said a simple man; for both abroad and at home, we have instances of such madness occasionally breaking out, owing to some subtile gas in the holds of vessels, or that breeds in our own streets. It may come from France or Ireland: but what is there to hinder it of springing up here, where there are as good materials to work upon, as on the other side the water? Human nature is the same every where.