Chapter 13

Having composed himself at home some time, the Captain took an opportunity, at a leisure hour, to pay a visit to the blind lawyer, and entering into conversation, ventured to put the question, Whence the rage against the judges? Had it always been the case, or was it a late matter that had broken out? Did it depend upon moral causes; or was it a matter of accident, unaccountable by man?

There is in the human mind, at all times, said the blind lawyer, a disposition to throw off shackles, and revert to the natural simplicity of early ages; not that we relish even in imagination, the oak, and the acorn; but we pass over these which were the food, and covering of the primitive inhabitants; and we think only of their liberty. How delightful is it to lie on one’s back, and whistle; having no care, and no laws to trouble us. Down with the lawyers, has been the language of the human heart ever since the first institution of society. It breaks out into action, some times, as the history of Jack Cade informs us.

A spirit of reform, is, unquestionably, a salutary temper of the times; because there is at all times, need of reformation. This is the angel that descends into the pool, and troubles the waters; so that he who steppeth in afterwards, is made whole. But troubling does not mean muddying the waters; but giving them motion, and exciting a current. It is by the spirit of the atmosphere, the wind, that the waters of the ocean are preserved salutary. But from the same cause springs the tempest, and hurricane. The spirit of reform is terrible in its excess. It is a matter of great judgment to stay it at a proper point.

Is not the right of universal suffrage, said the Captain, a great cause of this excess in our councils: persons young in the world, in the country, or such as have but little property put upon the same footing with those that have a greater stake in the preservation of the laws, and in the stability of the government?

It is extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible, said the blind lawyer, to adjust this matter to general satisfaction, and at the same time, general safety. With regard to age, it cannot well be carried, later than the age which gives the ownership, and disposition of real estate; and as to qualification of property, it has been found impracticable to carry it into effect. For how can the value of estate clear of all drawbacks, which any man possesses, be ascertained?

It seems inhospitable to hold the emigrant to a quarantine; and postpone the exercise of suffrage, to a distant day, and yet it is natural for an individual whom we admit to become a co-tenant of our habitation, to think that he can serve us, and himself also, by some alterations in the structure, or compartments of the cabbin. The German inhabiting a cold country, naturally thinks of accommodation to the winter; the Briton also, anticipates the heat very little. Neither of these are aware of the particular winds that blow, or of the rains, at certain periods that usually descend; or of the diseases of the climate. The older resident ought to be consulted, and his notion of things not too lightly undervalued.

The idea of reform delights the imagination. Hence reformers are prone to reform too much. There is a blue and a better blue; but in making the better blue, a small error in the proportion of the drug, or alkali, will turn black. A great enemy to a judicious reform is a distrust of those skilled in the subject of the reform; and yet there is ground of distrust where those skilled in the subject, have any possible interest in the reform itself. -One would suppose that an old lawyer out of practice; one who had been a judge, and no longer on the bench, might be trusted in all questions of amendment of the judicial system. But the legislative body is the organ of amendments; and it is natural for one branch to endeavour to absorb the independence of another, or to be suspected of it. Hence jealousy and distrust, which an enlightened policy can alone dissipate.

But the present idea of reform seems to be to pull down altogether, said the Captain. I do not know that you will see “down with the judges” just written upon fence rails; or scored on tavern windows; but it is a very common language, among the more uninformed of the community. The danger is that it may be mistaken for the voice of the people, and under that idea influence the constituted authorities.

That would be an error, said the blind lawyer. (For it does not follow that, because a thing seems to have advocates, that it is the voice of the people. The noisy are heard; but the dissentients are silent.) Hence it is that those who hold the administration for the time being, are not always aware of the real inclination of the public mind. It is at the moment they seem to have the greatest way, that an under current begins to set. The truth and justice of the case, therefore is the great guide; not what may appear to be the popular opinion.

There would seem to be good sense in what you say, said the Captain; and for a blind man, you appear to have a tolerable insight into things. But how shall the truth and justice of the case be known in a government?

It is not an easy matter, said the blind lawyer; or, as in the present conversation, I ought rather to call him, the blind politician. For there are fanatics, and there are designing men. The fanatic is an honest creature, that thinks he is doing God’s service; when at the same time he is undermining the pillars of the constitution.--The designing man, sails with whatever he finds to be the current: or, rather than let the pool stagnate, he will excite a current. In order to be something in a government, a man must do something. There is little to be got by doing good; for all feel the benefit; but no one enquires into the cause. It is by disorganization, that reputation is most easily acquired. The introducing a new law, or the pulling down an old magistrate, says Machiavel, are the means by which a young person may distinguish himself in a commonwealth. Indeed, even an old person, will find his account in showing game. If he cannot show a panther, he must show a hind, and raise the talliho.

I do not know, whether you call a judge a hind or a panther, said the Captain; but that seems to be the game at present. Every one must have a whit at a judge.--No festival can be celebrated with suitable patriotism, without a dash at the judiciary.

There is danger, said the politician, of running down a branch of the government. It is a delicate point to restrain and not to overthrow. Wrong or excess terminates in the loss of liberty.

Individual injury may be done, said the Captain; but the constitution is a barrier to usurpation.

Our constitutions are yet green, said the politician. Inflexions are easy. It is construction makes the constitution; and these vary with the men in power. A witch at a mast head is not more dangerous, than the spirit of ambition. A branch of the government, is no more than a bramble bush before it. A philosopher is at a loss to know whether to laugh or shed tears, when he hears invectives against the immediate usurpers of a government, when the thing had its foundation in the errors of the people a long time before. It is like laying the death of a man upon death itself, instead of the primary causes which had sown the seeds of his disease. The ambition of individuals out of doors, and afterwards within doors, to carry particular points, without looking to the consequences, or overlooking them for the sake of the immediate object, is the invisible gas, or poison, that with a slow, or rapid process, ultimately produces fever, and brings on dissolution. Self-denial is the great virtue of a republic. It is the opposite of ambition. Self-denial looks only at justice. It looks at the public good. --Self-denial may not be accompanied with information; but it is ready to receive information. It is not always an apt; but it is at least a willing scholar. But inordinate self-love, begets obstinacy in the weak mind, and ambition in the strong; both destructive of happiness, political, or personal.

I hear a sound, said the Captain, like that of many tongues; and I see a man running, whose strides are like those of my bog-trotter.

It was a tumult in the village occasioned by the bog-trotter; though he could not be the cause of it. Talk much about a thing, and you will put it into the people’s heads. The fact was, that in a meeting of the citizens, it had been proposed a second time, to make Teague a judge.

Make him a devil, said a rash man, getting angry.

A devil, let it be then, said the populace; and while one went to get horns, and another hair to make a tail, the bog-trotter was left standing in the midst. But he did not stand long; for understanding what was about to be done with him, he slipped cable, and shot a-head half a square, before the people were under way to retake him.

His object was to reach the Captain and the blind lawyer, whom he saw conversing at a distance: but he was under the necessity of making some doubles, to elude his pursuers. At length, however, reaching the Scean gate, more fortunate than Hector, he threw himself under the protection of the Captain; who being made acquainted with the cause of this uproar, was beginning to expostulate with the rioters.

Captain, said they, is it reasonable that the people should be checked in every thing they do? Was it not enough for you to throw cold water upon making him a judge, or the editor of a telegraph; but you must also obstruct his advancement to the office of a devil.

Finding the people warm, the Captain thought it prudent to lay the blame a little on the bog-trotter in the first instance.

Teague, said he, this is the first promotion to which I have ever known you to have the least objection. Is it a false pride, or a false delicacy, that induces you to decline the appointment? Were it not more advisable for you to accept your credentials; the tail and horns, than, through affected modesty, to decline the commission? or at least carry the matter so far, as to be a fugitive from honour.

In a free government, said the blind lawyer, a man cannot be said to have dominium directum, or an absolute property in his own faculties. You owe yourself to the commonwealth. If the people have discovered in what capacity, you can best serve them, it behooves you to submit, and accept the trust.

The bog-trotter, on the other hand, though he could not yet speak from the fast running, was averse from the proposition; not only on account of the unbecoming appearance of the badge of the office, but least if made a devil, in appearance, he should be taken for one in reality. He might be claimed by Lucifer, perhaps, and ordered upon duty, not having a liking to the service; whether it might be to tempt good people, or afflict the bad.

The fact is, he was taken by surprise; and even when he got his breath, he stood gaping and at a loss what to say. It appeared to him an unintelligible matter, how he could be of any use to the community, in the capacity of a devil; or how tails and horns, should change the endowments of his mind, though it did the appearance of his body. Hinting this, as well as he could in broken sentences, he was answered by the populace; “that he had made no objection of that kind when he had been made a judge; or acted in that capacity; or when it was proposed to put him at the head of a paper; that in fact it was a new thing from any candidate, unless, indeed, under an affectation of modesty, to alledge want of parts, or inadaptation to a place of profit or of power.”

But perhaps it is the first time, said the lawyer, that it has been proposed to diabolize a man. Even of offices that are known to the constitution, there are some, which men of a liberal education, would wish to decline; though, by the bye, it is not good policy to decline an office because of the subordinate nature of it; for submission to the will of the people, in this respect, may be the means of obtaining their suffrages at another time, to a more important station; wherefore I would recommend it to the young man to turn devil, since it is the public voice.

It will require no great change of mind, said the Captain, to qualify him. The metamorphose need only be of his body. His parts otherwise may stand as they are. --But I would ask, is it not a superfluous alteration in the economy of the world? Is not the devil that is already made competent to all necessary purposes, Why apply steam to propel a boat, unless against the current?

It is true, said the Lawyer, we have it in all indictments “moved by the instigation of the devil.” And there is no complaint of the want of a devil, to instigate indictments.

Were that the case, said the Captain, I should be unwilling to withhold assistance even to do mischief when the community required it. But all matters appear to me to be going on pretty well towards confusion in this village. And why increase the number of devils, I do not well comprehend.

Cui bono, said the Lawyer, of what use? Why carry coals to New Castle, or timber to the wood?

It appeared to the more reasonable that there was good reason in this; and it was agreed to postpone the making a devil at that time.

But it will not be understood that even the bulk of the people really conceived that it was in their power to constitute a devil with the qualities of one. They had no idea of turning devil-makers, to that extent of the composition. They had sense enough to know, that all they could do was to give the form, and appearance of one. For however men of superior standing in society, may be disposed to undervalue the common people, and to reckon them fools, there are as many knaves amongst them as fools, and perhaps more, upon a nice scrutiny. These rogues who were at the bottom of the business, meant no more than their amusement with the public, and a little mirth at the expence of the Captain. Nevertheless, the matter had been carried so far, that had not the Captain and the blind Lawyer, assisted with their address, and parried the proposition of devil-making by an indirect argument, the inutility of it, the matter must have gone on, and a devil, in some sense of the word, must have been made. For it may easily be conceived, what a flame it would have raised to have stood forward boldly, and alleged that the idea of making a devil was a wicked conception, and its origin, in a design to overthrow the government; that it was a diabolical attempt, and they must be worse than devils, into whose heads it had come. Nor would it have mended the matter much, to have told them that they were themselves devils, or at least do the work of devils in hostility to churches, and schools of learning. For as by the application of mechanical powers we gain a force above the direct strength of a man, so by that mode of speech and reasoning, which flatters self-love, and hides the application that is intended. Men deserve great credit, who, by skill in science, have lessened labour; who by the invention of useful tools, have rendered the life of man more comfortable upon this globe. But they deserve not less praise, who by study and reflection have rendered themselves capable of managing the minds of men. This is the art or oratory, which consists not in length of speech, or melody of voice, or beauty of diction; but in wise thoughts: and here our orators from the schools fail. Men of business learn to take things by the right handle, and to speak with a single view to persuade. You might as well expect good liquors without fermentation, as a man of real sense without experience in life. Doubtless all experience will not of itself suffice. There must be a substratum, or layer of judgment to begin with, in order to make a man of sense. Some may ask me of what use it is to have recorded these freaks of the town’s people? It is not pretended that it is of any, farther than to keep my fingers going. But is not that something to a man’s self? There is a pleasure in writing, which only the man who writes knows. Yet I believe no man would write, unless he expected somebody to read. His own reading would be small if he did not expect to have it found out that he had read. Thus self-love is, in a great degree, the spring of all things. Is it nothing to be able to show how easily I can elevate small matters? That is the very reason why I assume this biography. Any one can write the campaign of a great prince, because the subject sustains the narrative. But it is a greater praise to give a value to the rambles of private persons, or the dissensions of a borough town. One advantage is, that these transactions being in a narrow compass, the truth can be reached with more certainty, the want of which is a drawback upon histories of greater compass, most of them being little better than the romance of the middle ages, or the modern novel.

Having premised thus much, we go on to a fact that took place the following Sunday.